Fear: The Cornerstone of Courage
By Faith X.
In our age, it is the subtle vice of complacency more than the obvious one of cowardice that works most against courage.
The easiest way to corrupt courage into complacency is to suppress fear. What is fear? Fear is the accurate interpretation of truth, and courage is the accurate application of truth. In his First Inaugural Address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” However, when we fear fear, then truth is obsolete, absolutes are antiquated, and morals are outdated. Courage, motivated by fear, endeavors to stop the danger and defend that which is valued. Today, we need courage more than ever before. We cannot defend the true, the good, and the beautiful without courage. Specifically, we need to have a proper fear of the Lord, a proper fear of circumstances, and a proper fear of success, in order to be men and women of courage in this world.
The fear of the Lord is the most important type of fear. This fear is critical in the defense of truth, because apart from it, there is no logical basis for the existence of absolute truth. This fear accurately interprets the reality of God’s holiness, justice, and omnipotence, and the reality of our sin and depravity in His sight. This fear motivates people to turn to Christ and accept His free gift of salvation even in countries where doing so is illegal, and in societies where Christianity is viewed as a crutch and a mark of unintelligence. It also enables Christians to endure unbearable persecution for Christ’s sake. They know the truth and the truth sets them free. But when people believe the lie, they become complacent because they don’t believe they need salvation. And so they remain slaves to sin and death. Complacency causes captivity. But proper fear precedes freedom.
Another crucial kind of fear is the proper fear of dangerous circumstances. Many times, this is simple common sense, like the fear of jumping off of a cliff or of petting a skunk. Although not petting a skunk does not quite qualify as courage, the proper fear of circumstances occasionally produces some of the finest displays of courage in defending truth, family, and country. On September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 93; when terrorists hijacked the plane, Beamer and some of the other passengers rushed the hijackers in a daring attempt to regain control of the Boeing 747. Tragically, Beamer and all of the other passengers died when the plane crashed, but the terrorists’ intended target (either the White House or the United States Capitol) were spared. Todd Beamer had a proper fear of the hijackers and their intentions: this fear prompted his courage, which protected his country and his countrymen. However, if Beamer had not had a proper fear of these circumstances, he would have been complacent, not courageous. Proper fear propels action.
Perhaps the most often overlooked form of fear is the proper fear of success. Francis Chan once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” We live in a world that values fame and fortune. In academics we focus on excellent grades, in sports we focus on physical performance, and in business we focus on financial gain. While all of these are good pursuits, they should not be the end goal of life. Why should we fear succeeding at the trivial? Because for every yes, there is also a no. We all have limited time, resources, and energy; we cannot give our full attention to multiple endeavors at the same time. If a person is spending all of their resources on financial success, they are also denying those resources from other pursuits such as faith and family.
We need to know the truth regarding the perils of chasing after the wind, pursuing the perishable, and searching for temporary success. Knowing the reality of this danger inspires courage in the face of peer pressure and the world’s standards of success. It should cause us to swim against the current and prioritize what actually matters most. An eternal perspective is necessary for genuine success in life. Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We all must ask ourselves: What is our ultimate priority in life? Success in life is a good thing, but it is not necessarily the best. Proper fear is the foundation of proper priorities.
Courage without fear is lunacy. The accurate interpretation of truth is necessary for the appropriate application of truth. In a world of complacency, the cornerstone of courage: fear, and the bedrock of fear: truth, are not only despised, but also shunned. We need truth, fear, and courage more now than ever before. Let not our courage be corrupted into complacency. Know the truth. Love the truth. Defend the truth. Be courageous!
Faith is a homeschooled high school sophomore living in Montana. She is considering studying K-12 education and agriculture. Outside of school, she enjoys horseback riding, gardening, and other outdoor activities.
Every time we administer the CLT, the forty highest-scoring students are invited to contribute to the Journal. Congratulations to Miss X. on her high score! If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy these other essays from top CLT students on topics ranging from the use and abuse of social media to the text of the national anthem to a comparison of Clytæmnestra with Medea.
Published on 18th March, 2022. Page image of The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893.