by Ryan Beaty
Is courage the opposite of wisdom? Conventionally, yes.
Before you get all crazy and up in arms saying, “Wisdom is a gift and it comes from God.” And, “If wisdom is bad then why did God honor Solomon when he asked for it?” Hear me out.
Inarguably courage is the opposite of wisdom, conventional wisdom that is. Conventional wisdom is situational and personal. It’s the rule of thumb in any given case. It’s street smarts. Conventional wisdom is not bad. It’s very healthy most of the time. However, when faced with the need for courage it can be our undoing.
Courage goes against conventional wisdom, which would always tell you to think of your own safety and well-being first. Courage calls you to confess, when conventional wisdom says hide. Courage inspires you to speak when conventional wisdom says stay silent. Courage motivates to action when conventional wisdom wants us to sit.
Conventional wisdom would have kept Martin Luther King, Jr. in his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta. Conventional wisdom would have told Gandhi to keep his head down and keep practicing corporate law. Conventional wisdom provides strength to the normal and keeps the extraordinary ordinary.
Recently a newspaper reporter in Houston, TX where I live, intervened when he saw a man verbally abusing the woman he was with. He stood up to the abuser and physically put himself in between the two. The story was retold in the online version of the newspaper and on the paper’s FaceBook page. The comment section was overwhelming against the actions of the reporter, decrying his actions that while courageous as overwhelmingly foolish. One commenter said, “I have been in this situation… well, much worse… the man was beating the tar out of this woman. Slammed her head against the side of a car. No, I did not intervene… I think it’s foolish to personally intervene, call the cops and wait a safe distance… but I am not risking MY life by getting the middle of an altercation.”
Conventional wisdom kept this person safe while still allowing them to do their small part and sleep well at night. All the while, courage remained clearly absent.
In his final words before he left earth to return to heaven, Christ told his friends that they would “receive power” through the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses. They would be given courage to testify and tell the good news of Jesus Christ. That power and courage regularly took them to places conventionally wisdom would have kept them from. The preached the gospel all over the world, often in dangerous places. And for many the consequences of their Spirit-empowered courage was death.
We, like the early church, are in desperate need of spirit-led courage. Spirit-led courage gives us the words to say, the strength to say them, and the will to act when failure would embarrass and make us appear foolish. Spirit-led courage also inspires us to move in ways that wise people would advise against. To go against even the advisement of leaders because you know what the Holy Spirit has spoken to you. And then to lean on that courage one final time with Spirit empowered audacity to face the consequences of your actions.
Courage never leads to easy places. Often there are consequences to courageous actions we would rather not face. But courage, unlike conventional wisdom, causes us to choose action over safety, the love of others over the love of ourselves. There is also one other way courage is different than conventional wisdom; courage leaves a legacy.
Ryan Beaty is the founding pastor of VillageHouston, an Assemblies of God church located in urban Houston, TX. He is an avid reader, pop-culture nerd, and theology honk. He and his wife, Korista, live in urban Houston where Ryan also serves as the chaplain of an Episcopalian day school.