The Courage of a Father

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go….Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7, 9

Most folks are stirred by stories of courage. Some of us are deeply stirred.

My father served in World War II having enlisted by lying about his age. He was 16 at the time but must have looked older. During his enlistment after the war we lived in Morocco, North Africa, where he was stationed. He served then as a military policeman. He told the story of getting word of the crash of an America plane in the mountains and how he, as an E-5, was called upon to go with an officer to be parachuted into the mountains to guard the crash site so that the plane, its contents, and the bodies of the dead airmen would not be vandalized. They were told to take three days rations. In reality they were there, just the two of them, in rugged mountainous country, in the midst of roaming Bedouins, without any support or backup for almost two weeks. It required courage.

Because of my father’s military service I have always been fascinated with war stories. Having served in the military myself, but never in combat, I have often wondered how I would have reacted. How I would have responded. It should be no surprise then when I tell you that the movies “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Saving Private Ryan” are powerful for me. If you haven’t seen them, you must.

  1. K. Chesterton observed concerning courage, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” I heartily agree. He also wrote, “The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life in order to keep it.” He indirectly wrote concerning the motivation for courage when he wrote, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

Consider Chesterton with a bit more context:

Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying

Courage is that expression of a life wherein he is wiling to lay down his life for another without being asked. Herein is the essence of Christian fatherhood. “This is how we know love, Christ laid down His life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” John 3:16

Let me suggest several considerations for dads concerning the courage of a Christian father. First, have the courage to pursue wisdom in an age of foolishness. Which is to say to live in God’s world God’s way and teach your children to do the same. Show them, as you tell them, what the courage of biblical wisdom (aka “the fear of the LORD”) is. It becomes a revolutionary act in an age moral rebellion, to seek God’s wisdom. Teach them that ideas have consequences and worldview matters, but more importantly, show them what that looks like. Honor your marriage vows, live and work with integrity, openly oppose evil, and love the unlovable, the despised, the forsaken.

Secondly, demonstrate the courage to stand against opposition. Take to heart and internalize the story of Noah who stood for righteousness , against all opposition, for 120 years. Do you know the story of Athanasius? If not, learn about it and what the phrase “Athanasius, contra mundum” means. He was a man of great courage standing against great opposition in an age of compromise.

Thirdly, demonstrate the courage to say no. Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of the late 19th century wrote, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Teach your children to develop discernment, so much so, they detect the difference between “right and almost right.” Show them how and demonstrate the courage to say “No” to the “almost right.” From the beginning of mankind the failure to discern and say no has been our moral plague. Had Adam discerned the subtlety of the serpent’s temptation and had the courage to stop his wife from being enticed by it, how our world would have been different.

Fourthly, show them and teach them to have the courage to face reality as it is. We live in a broken world filled with broken people, and broken relationships. Life will often be hard. Sometime terribly hard, even excruciatingly so. Have the courage to prepare them for the reality of life’s difficulty. Give them the courage to face it and press into it. Proverbs 18:1 observes “a man who isolates himself (from reality) rages against wisdom.” Denying the reality of a fallen world, fallen nature, and our ongoing need for the Gospel will drive a man to drink, drugs, and suicide. Embracing life, as it is, with the hope of the Gospel equips us for reality.

Lastly, have the courage to show your children how to embrace weakness and overcome it. Show them what incremental growth and maturity looks like. This is precisely what the apostle Paul writes about in Philippians 3: 12-16,  “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.  Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.”

Children need courageous heroes, real life heroes, not perfect ones. They need to know that the real life examples of real life courage are imperfect examples of real courage and are not just comic book characters or  Hollywood’s version of “super heroes.” Real courage is forged in the heat of living in a broken world, with  a life grounded upon transcendent values, that embrace the reality of Gospel truth being applied daily in our lives. Real courage

Dad, YOU (!) be that hero to your children.

 

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