Daily Archives: January 25, 2024

On being a Hero

Volodymir Oleksandrovych Zelensky is the 46-year-old president of Ukraine. In his earlier life he was a comedian and actor who played the role of president in a popular TV series. Seeing that his country was suffering from political chaos and deeply entrenched corruption, he ran for the presidency in the national elections. Zelensky won those elections with an overwhelming majority of 73 percent of the votes. He was installed on May 20, 2019 as the sixth president of the second largest country in Europe, with a population of some 44 million. Now, a few years later, he is widely admired for his courageous leadership in his war-torn country. He has become a national and international hero.

Examples of courage
Having courage is a synonym for being brave and daring, especially in moments when the stakes are high. The word courage has its root in the Latin word cor, which means heart. Showing courage means getting involved in a challenging activity with your whole heart, which leads people to do daring things, sometimes under arduous circumstances.

We recognize different categories of heroes—women and men who manifested an extraordinary amount of nerve. There are military and political heroes, but also persons with great courage in the spheres of philanthropy, culture, medicine, sports, and other fields. Moreover there are those who suddenly and unexpectedly become heroes when they are thrust into situations where they are called upon to act heroically to save others.

Among my heroes? Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the “lady with the lamp” who cared for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War; Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who was a catalyst for the American Civil Rights movement when she refused to give up her seat in a bus in Montgomery, Alabama; Amelia Earhart (1897-1939), the American female aviator who first flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Other moral heroes include Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who fought back against racism in their countries; also, Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) and Henri Weidner (1912-1994), who saved thousands of Jewish lives in World War II. I could mention many names—heroism and courage are not as rare as some people want us to believe.

Courage and faith
The eleventh chapter in the biblical book of Hebrews is a gallery of heroes of faith. The list is diverse: Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Joseph, Hagar and Samson; Samuel, David, and Isaiah. The chapter makes for fascinating reading.

But there have also been many heroes of faith in post-biblical times. Like millions of others I watched with excitement and enormous admiration the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge: the story of the conscientious objector Desmond Doss (1919-2006). As a medic who refused to bear arms, Doss saved 75 men during the battle for the Japanese island of Okinawa towards the end of World War II.

I don’t think I could ever muster such courage. Desmond Doss was undeniably a hero. As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, he was also a man of faith—but should we therefore see him primarily as a hero of faith? Or was he, after all, simply a war hero?

What is the relationship between faith and courage? There have been many courageous persons who will not get a slot in any modern sequel of Hebrews 11. They may have been genuine heroes but weren’t heroes of faith. These secular heroes can certainly inspire us, but most Christians will agree that the faith factor has often been an extra source of courage for them.

In Psalm 23 David confides that he relies on God when crisis situations arise:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (vs. 4, NIV).

We hear an echo of these words in one of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian congregation in the Greek city of Corinth:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3,4 NIV).

How to become a hero
How does this divine comfort work, and how does it relate to the courage to perform heroic deeds?

We should not expect to match the courage of people like Volodymir Oleksandrovych Zelensky or Desmond Doss overnight—or even in the long run. What we may hope for is that God will give us the courage to be sincere and honest in our everyday lives—even when that may not always seem expedient—and to bear witness to our faith. It takes courage to pray in a restaurant before a meal, to tell others about our faith, or to ask colleagues not to curse in our presence. God can and will give us that kind of courage if we ask Him for it.

We may find out if we have the courage to perform a truly heroic deed only when we land in an exceptional situation. Would I have the courage to jump into a deep canal to save a toddler from drowning? I don’t know. As I think about it at this moment, sitting at my desk, I wonder if it would be wise to do so. Am I a good enough swimmer? There’s a chance that such a heroic act on my part would only result in an additional casualty.

All I can do is pray that God will make it clear at critical moments what I should do. Who knows if He will give me the courage to become an unlikely hero at such a time?

Praying for heroism
In the Middle Ages, millions of Christians paid for their faith with their lives. Had I lived in those times, would I have climbed the stake with a psalm on my lips, as some were able to do?

Suppose that one day there would be a persecution of Christian believers in my part of the world. How courageous would I be? Would I be able to remain steadfast in my faith even if it required a high price? The only answer to that question is to pray to God each day for the strength to face the challenges of that particular day.

However, praying for courage for ourselves is not enough. More than ever before we need to pray for the peacemakers in this world, that they may have the courage to raise their voices against violence and hate. Christians around the world should pray that political leaders will have the courage to stand up against immoral dictators like Putin and Kim Jong Un, and also to protest against another presidential term of such a deeply flawed person like Donald Trump, and to resist populist nationalistic leaders in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Courage is also an essential ingredient for church leaders, at every administrative level, and that includes our Adventist church leaders. Being courageous and doing what is right even when it is highly unpopular may come at a high price. It may result in being marginalized, not being re-elected, or even being fired. Courage is needed, too, for church employees to speak up when they see injustice—and not just when we’re retired!

Leaders in local congregations must be courageous enough to change the things in their church that need changing, and to make their congregation truly inclusive. We need leaders at the conference and union level who have the courage to chart their own course when biblical and moral principles are at stake. And leaders at the highest echelons must have the courage to disagree with colleagues and superiors when their conscience demands this.

All of which is just to say that the church needs courageous leaders, who (as Ellen White wrote) will be as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men [and women] who will stand for the right though the heavens fall (Education, p. 57).

Heroes are not perfect
I suspect most of us feel we’re unworthy even to stand in the shadow of the great women and men we encounter in history books, as well as in the Bible. But remember: like us, most heroes are far from perfect people.

That was certainly also true of biblical heroes. Noah had a drinking problem. Jacob cheated his disabled father. David had sex with someone else’s wife.

We may have less dramatic deficiencies of character and conduct, and may also have good reasons to wonder whether we are equipped with a the ingredients for heroism. This is all the more reason to pray daily for courage to deal with all the small (and possibly big) challenges that may come on our path.

You and I may doubt whether we will ever become real heroes, but our faith tells us that God can give us the courage we need at a particular moment. Therefore, You who place your hope in the Lord: be all strong and keep courage (Psalm 31:24, NIV).