“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 31:24)
There are so many divisive issues in our society today, many of which discourage or threaten Christians. Sexual immorality, big government, Islam, secularism, fascism, communism, anarchy, dictatorship, Obamacare, catastrophic illness, ruthless capitalism, poverty, war, aimless hedonism, global warming, unemployment. From every side and every one looks, one can find issues that threaten our existence with uncertainty, chaos, suffering, persecution and nihilism.
How are we to respond? With faith, hope and love. That is what we are taught in Christianity. No suffering in this world is ever viewed as the end all or final word on anything. The final word, like the first word, belongs to God. All things happen within God’s universe, and within God Himself. For those who believe, this is to be of comfort. No matter how bad things may seem, God and God’s plan are still outside of the control of this world and greater than the world.
St. Paul told the members of the nascent church which was threatened with persecution and extinction: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous (Gr: literally, “play the man” – see 2 Sam 10:12), be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Their situation was not better than ours. They were a tiny minority without any political support or power. The established religions all opposed them, as did the rich, the educated, the powerful, the empire. St. Paul tells them and us the same words that God’s prophets and kings had been telling the people of God throughout history.
So God tells Moses:
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them: for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
Then Moses summoned Joshua, and said to him in the sight of all Israel,
“Be strong and of good courage; for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them; and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)
After Moses, death, God said to Joshua:
“Be strong and of good courage; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)
King Joab facing war told Israel:
“Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” (2 Samuel 10:12)
King David used the same words to strengthen his people:
“Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the ordinances which the LORD commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong, and of good courage. Fear not; be not dismayed.” (1 Chronicles 22:13)
And again King David encouraged his son, Solomon with these words:
“Be strong and of good courage, and do it. Fear not, be not dismayed; for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)
In Daniel’s vision he is told while in captivity:
“O man greatly beloved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And when he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” (Daniel 10:19)
There are numerous other such examples sprinkled throughout the Old Testament – often before a battle,or before some struggle, God’s people were reminded to be courageous. Even against superior odds, even when defeat seemed inevitable, even when the people suffered great loss and defeat, they were called to courage. St. Paul in his words to his flock is simply copying the words of his ancestors and trying to get the nascent Church and struggling Christians to be courageous even in the face of opposition. He is invoking the memory of their forefathers. Today is our turn to hear the call and heed the words to be courageous, no matter what is happening in history. Courage is not folly. We are not being called to the reckless abandon of super heroes, nor to go on some ravaging offensive to destroy others. We are called to be courageous no matter what else is happening – to be people of faith, hope and love. Courage is faithfulness to God.