From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 7 – Some more of the ways in which we must become faithful
There is nothing wrong with being afraid. Fear is not sin in itself. It is natural, and even necessary, at times. Indeed, without fear there cannot be any real bravery. A brave person is just someone who has learned how to control their fear and to go ahead despite it, rather than someone who has no capacity to feel it.
A coward is someone who feels exactly the same fear, or even less, but has decided that he is not willing to face up to it. Indeed, for a coward, the fear may well be less, because he is well aware that he has no intention of facing any challenge or taking any risk, whether small or large. Thus, the dangers he faces are largely academic and theoretical rather than real. However, for a brave person the fear is all the more real, precisely because he knows that he does not have the option of running away and that he will have to face up to it.
By contrast, a coward does not even try to overcome his fear and he does not seek God’s help to defeat it. He has already made a clear decision of a very different kind. That is that he will not do or say anything, or make any decision, that would have the potential to cost him, hurt him or upset him.
In the end he becomes programmed with a default-setting that guides him on every occasion away from risk, danger or cost and towards the preservation of himself, his property and his reputation. I have seen this in operation many times and have noted how quickly certain people can be diverted from the right path, merely because they see a risk of danger ahead. As soon as they see it they immediately, and automatically, seek for compromise and a way of escape.
They do so as a matter of habit because it has become such a settled policy to avoid personal danger or cost. They do not even need to think it through when the crisis emerges. They have already pre-programmed themselves to make it their top priority to preserve themselves, and/or their possessions or popularity, rather than be faithful to what God asks of them.
For example, I have seen this trait in managers and supervisors within a workplace. Most of them will instinctively choose to overlook wrongdoing, and to ‘turn a blind eye’, so as to avoid a challenge or a controversy. They don’t want to be put under any personal pressure. Above all, they will avoid any face to face confrontation. Thus, for example, such a manager may face a situation where a nasty, hardened, battle-axe of an employee is causing problems within the office or is bullying or exploiting weaker colleagues.
The duty of that manager is obvious. It is to confront the wrongdoer, stand up for the victim, commence an investigation and disciplinary proceedings and get the wrongdoer out. But they usually don’t do so because they already know, without needing to think it over, that doing what is right would be difficult. They don’t relish the prospect of tackling the bully or facing a backlash from the bully’s supporters. So, they tell themselves that the wrongdoing isn’t happening, or that it isn’t their responsibility, or that nothing can be done about it. Then they look the other way and keep on looking the other way.
That manager or supervisor is a coward, not because they felt fear, but because they allowed that fear to rule them and to cause them to neglect their clear duty. They chose self-preservation, or even the preservation of their own comfort, peace and well-being, rather than the needs of their junior colleagues and their duty to the business. Their cowardice manifests itself in their decisions and in the order of their list of priorities. A coward will put himself first every time. By contrast, for a brave person, it is duty that must come first, even though he feels all the same fears, and faces all the same pressures, as the rest of us.
Dangerous or challenging situations will inevitably arise from time to time. In fact, God probably causes some of them to happen. At the very least, He makes use of them. He sees them as tests of your courage and faithfulness and He will watch closely to see how you respond to danger and pressure.
One example of this, on a very large scale, is the way that God allowed King Hezekiah of Judah to face the terrible prospect of an invading army. We are told directly that God wanted to see what was in Hezekiah’s heart. In other words, God wanted to see what Hezekiah was made of and how he would react in a major crisis, when a large army approached Judah and was likely to invade:
Even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.2 Chronicles 32:31 (NASB)