I’d like to propose the idea that these two qualities are actually two sides of the same coin and are not fully operational separate from one another. Compassion without courage is completely ineffectual and courage without compassion is equally pointless and can sometimes even be cruel.
Allow me to explain.
What is True Compassion?
Compassion literally means, “co-suffering.” It’s way more involved than simply sympathizing with someone. It’s even more involved than empathizing with them. Compassion gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another person’s suffering. It is love-in-action. It’s a mother, who can’t swim and is deathly afraid of water, jumping into a deep pool to rescue her drowning baby. This is the perfect love that scripture talks about. It’s the love that casts out fear. It doesn’t work without courage. Without courage, compassion is nothing more than apathetic sympathy. Without courage, compassion is just a weak fleeting emotion. Without courage, the child drowns. But with courage, compassion saves!
What is True Courage?
Courage without compassion is a bit tougher to explain. Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens you. It’s the strength to act in the face of pain, fear, or grief. Here are three scary scenarios to consider:
– Skydiving. (Facing Fear)
– Stealing a car. (Facing Fear minus Compassion)
– Jumping into water to save a child even though you can’t swim. (Facing Fear plus Compassion)
All of these require acting in the face of fear; acting when there is the threat of pain or grief as a result. But do all three of them qualify as true courage?
– Facing Fear: There’s nothing wrong with skydiving. If you’re into it, knock yourself out. I don’t get it, personally, but I do recognize there are some inherent benefits from taking such a risk. For instance, many people experience a deeper sense of self-realization which makes them braver in other areas of their life. If I can survive jumping out of a plane, I can survive this board meeting. But other than that, it doesn’t accomplish much. Thus, I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it “true courage.” I’m much more comfortable qualifying it as “nerve” or “grit” or “boldness.”
– Facing Fear Minus Compassion: Stealing a car also requires nerve. However, I can’t get over the fact that an act like this more closely fits another definition. “Cowardice” is defined as a trait wherein fear or excess self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good, and of help to others or oneself in a time of need. Stealing a car may be scary, but it’s not right, it’s not good, and it doesn’t help others. Acting in the face of fear can sometimes be attributed to an excessive self-concern. When this is the case, it’s not courage. In fact, it’s the total opposite of courage. It’s full-on cowardice!
– Facing Fear Plus Compassion: We’ve already established the power of these two working in tandem. It’s the compassionate love the mother has for her child which would cause her to perform such a courageous act. When jumping into the pool, she’s not thinking about the risk involved if she acts. Rather, she’s thinking about the risk involved if she doesn’t act. This is true courage. True courage acts in the face of fear whenever there is something worthwhile at stake. This is the type of courage that Jesus had when He faced the cross. Another phrase for it is “sacrificial love,” the kind of love that lays down its life for the life of another.
Are you living a truly courageous life? Is your cause worthwhile? Is your cause worth dying for?
Courage + Compassion = Salvation
Courage plus compassion always compels us to do what is right even in the face of danger. And it often leads to salvation!
For example, I cannot get over the long series of compassionate courageous acts found in Exodus chapters 1 and 2.
Pharaoh ordered the killing of the boy children of the Israelites because he feared they would grow up to be warriors who would oppose him. He feared their courage minus compassion. But it turns out that it was courageous feminine compassion which posed the real threat to him not masculine might. In those first two chapters, we see compassionate act after compassionate act performed by women which ultimately lead to the rise of the deliverer and the abolition of the Hebrew slaves. Their acts ultimately led to salvation.
Read it for yourself. Here are just some highlights.
Acts of Courageous Feminine Compassion in Exodus 1 and 2:
1. The midwives refuse to kill the boy children, a direct defiance of Pharaoh’s orders. They basically were willing to die so that these babies could live.
2. To cover for why they didn’t kill the babies, the midwives boldly tell the Pharaoh that Hebrew women are just tougher than Egyptian women and they have the babies before a midwife can get there. (Can you imagine telling a king that the women of his race just aren’t as tough as the women he held as slaves? And God blessed the midwives for it by giving them families.)
3. Moses’s mother puts her baby in a basket. This may at first glance seem heartless, but, upon closer examination, is actually very compassionate. How hard it must’ve been to part with your baby in the hopes that he may have a slim chance to live. This was a self-sacrifice.
4. Moses’s sister bravely follows Moses’s basket, wanting no harm to come to her little brother.
5. Pharaoh’s daughter keeps baby Moses even though she knows she is directly disobeying her father’s orders. Because, that’s just what we women do. We see a stray, we bring it home. We see a baby in a basket, we bring it home. Compassion. We’d rather ask our father or our husband for forgiveness than ask them for permission when someone or something helpless is involved.
6. Moses’s sister boldly talks to Pharaoh’s daughter about finding a Hebrew nursemaid for the baby. This would’ve taken considerable bravery since, she would’ve had to reveal that she was hiding in the reeds watching this whole thing take place (Pharaoh’s daughter had been BATHING in the river when she found Moses…can you say “creeper”?). Furthermore, she was a slave who had no right to address the Pharaoh’s daughter.
7. Moses’s mother agrees to nurse Moses (and now gets paid to do so-paid to nurse her own child) knowing that she can’t tell him the truth and she will have to hand him over to another woman to be his mother. At that point, I think I would have taken my baby and my money and gotten out of dodge. But Moses’s mother knows he will have a much better life in Pharaoh’s courts than he will in the slave pits. So, she sacrifices a relationship with him so that he can have a better life.
Of course, we know the end of the story. Moses grows up and, after facing many of his own fears, he acts with courageous compassion to liberate the people of God.
I don’t know about you, but that just stirs me up! If you’re like me and you have a heart for evangelism, a heart to see the lost and broken be ransomed and redeemed, I urge you to work hard to develop courageous compassion. Jesus exemplified it, and so can you! His courageous compassion is what brought salvation to the world. Your courageous compassion is what will bring people to Jesus so that they can experience that same salvation. It’s time to rise and shine His perfect love.
What are you waiting for? Go love like crazy!