Read Deuteronomy 31:6-8
6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (NIV)
To have courage is to have the strength to do what has to be done. In this passage, Moses speaks to the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land, which is already occupied by people who have no intention of packing up and moving on. They are to have courage to cross the Jordan and take possession. The basis of this courage is not their temperament or their muscle power. It is that God himself will be with them. His presence transforms the most fearsome of situations.
Not that courage is somehow the opposite of fear. The two are actually inseparable. Courage doesn’t negate fear or deny it. In fact, we could argue that without some fear, courage is not real. Courage takes note of the fear and determines that fear is not to have the final say in the situation. Courage looks beyond the immediate fearful circumstances and brings hope into the picture. A confidence that all will be well. In the case of the Israelites and in our own situations, this hope is based on an assurance of the powerful presence of God.
Some courage is active: David taking on Goliath, someone rescuing a child from a burning house. Some courage is more passive: Paul in prison, someone caring for their disabled child day by day. Courage is not the same as bravado. There has to be an element of wisdom and goodness in it. Someone who robs a bank or decides to play with man-eating sharks is not exhibiting moral courage. Little Ruby Bridges was the first black child to enter the school system in New Orleans. She showed great courage in going to school each day in the face of verbal and physical abuse. Her attackers showed no such courage.
We all need courage. But it doesn’t come from muscle flexing or from self-belief or from blasé denial of adversity. It comes rather from knowing that whatever is in front of me will be faced with God alongside me. Courage doesn’t come from absence of fear but from the presence of God.