Which is more powerful: Courage or Compassion?


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?

985b9e5017f743dfac13c55a2a9fd034Compassion 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?

How-Scary-is-Skydiving1–          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.”

car-thief_0–          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!

praying2–          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.c000501a7c43f8aa04b950d6985454927788ef8b8daaee3609f995be73b73d7f

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.

Compassion-Share-ItI 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!



The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” -Amelia Earhart

           Though countless women from past and present inspire my desire to tear down walls of gender inequality (many of whom you are bound to read about if you continue to follow this blog), Ms. Earhart has ever been my paragon in this respect.  Perhaps it’s because we share a birthday (July 24th), a connection which inspires me to hope we also share a similar nature: tenacious, fearless, and unapologetic.  Perhaps it’s because she was so bold concerning issues I care about: namely the rights of women to control their own lives and push beyond the list of socially prescribed career and family roles.  Or perhaps it’s because I work with so many disenfranchised women who, for whatever reason, have resigned themselves to make the best of a cultural system which exploits and oppresses them.  And it’s women like Amelia Earhart who give me hope that through the simple decision to act, we can conquer the mindset which falsely and resignedly declares “Oh well.  It’s a man’s world.” 

        And, if I’m being completely honest, it has a little something to do with the fact that when I flick through a Google image search of her, I’m mesmerized by how rad she looks in her leather jacket and aviator goggles.
 I mean, even her appearance, from her pants to her aviator cap to her grim and gritty grin, is a slap in the face of traditional gender roles.  Without words, each photo whispers “I won’t conform to your expectations of who and what I should be and that’s your problem, not mine.  So while you wrap your head around the audacity of a woman in trousers standing up for and making her own life choices, I’m going to go fly this plane.”

        While it is all of these aspects which cause me to admire her, the most inspiring thing about Amelia Earhart has nothing to do with fighting against gender inequality.  Quite simply, I’m in awe of the fact that she wanted to do something and she did it, despite the fact that it was difficult and despite the fact that it was scary and despite the fact that it had never been done.

         Start here to learn that she was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots, taught at Purdue University aviation department, was a member of the National Woman’s Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

        It’s true that Ms. Earhart disappeared while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in her plane and is presumed dead, but this should not diminish any aspect of her life including all the accomplishments she achieved in her short 39 years.  The fact that she died as a result of attempting one of her goals doesn’t shake me in the least.  In fact, it reminds me of a quote by playwright, George Bernard Shaw, “Death is the ultimate statistic.  One out of one dies.”  The question for us, then, is never “Will I die?”  The question is only ever, “Will I live?”

        This is the same ideology I present to well-meaning people in my life who are at odds with some of my own life choices.  I’m often asked by family members and friends, “Aren’t you scared to travel to a third-world country?”  “Isn’t it dangerous to go to strip clubs? Especially in the name of Jesus?”  To which, I can only reply, “Yes.”  Yes, I’m scared…  Yes, it’s dangerous…  And it’s the ellipses which follows this exchange that makes me smile every time because it’s within the pregnant pause I pray the idea is eventually birthed in their minds: Why should danger and fear hinder action?

      I’m thoroughly convinced that it shouldn’t.  Under no circumstances should fear and danger ever trump the right and the desire of a person to truly live.  I’m sure fear was present when Amelia climbed into the cockpit of the first plane she ever flew, when Susan B. Anthony cast her first ballot, and when sixty Saudi Arabian women each got behind the wheel of a car as a protest against a kingdom-wide ban on female drivers.  But where would we be if these women and others like them let that fear guide their lives and dictate their actions?

        Fear will always accompany courageous acts.  In fact, true courage can actually only exist when there is risk involved, when there is truly something to fear.  Because courage is not the absence of fear.  It is, rather, the decision to act in the face of fear. And as my girl, AE, points out, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”

         But courage is even more poignant in the life of a believer, because courage  can have providential consequences.  Courage is exemplified by Moses standing before Pharaoh with nothing but a staff and a word from God, declaring, “Let my people go!”  Courage is David, tiny and unarmored, swinging a slingshot around in the face of a giant seasoned warrior.  Courage is Daniel refusing to bow to the statue of a powerful king.  Courage is a sinful woman walking across a crowded room of religious people, bowing before Jesus, breaking open her alabaster box, and anointing his feet.  Courage is Jesus in the garden, sweating drops of blood, begging that the cup pass, before declaring, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  Each of these people weighed the goal against the risks, and found the goal to be worth the pain and danger.

        This is true freedom.  Not living your life devoid of fear and pain, but daring to live despite the fear and pain.  True freedom is choosing to live for a cause greater than yourself, a cause that is worth the risks involved.  For me, that cause is Christ.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I could die.  Sure.  But it’s worth it to really live and to see others live.  And if you’re a believer, death should not scare you anyway.  As Paul said, “To die is gain.”

         Be sure that you were not created to live a small, secure, petty, typical life.  You were created for a unique purpose and you were bought with a price.  Your life matters and your actions ripple throughout eternity.  So what is it you’re going to do with this one wild and precious life you’ve been given?  Where is your passion and what fears stand between you and your goals?  Why let them have any sway over your decisions?  The adventure is worthwhile in and of itself, but the goals are what make it worth the risks. The fears are paper tigers.  They look ferocious but are of little to no substance.  Your fears of the future, of what people think about you, or what they can do to you, your fear of failure, your financial fears and social fears, fear of inadequacy, fear of embarrassment, etc., etc….none of them have any real power over you.  They’re made of paper which crumples before your courage.

        So now that we have the proverbial paper tiger by the tail, how do we crush him?  It’s quite simple really: act.  Do the thing that you’re scared to do.   “Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?” -Amelia Earhart

        So, jump in that plane and find that you can soar.