If any of us ever found ourselves in a situation where we witnessed a car accident, I'd like to think that we would all stop and help, no matter how inconvenient. Or if we had to intervene to save someone from being assaulted, surely we would get involved no matter what the cost to us. It would be the right thing to do. After all, if we didn't we would be wracked not only by guilt but also by shame. Who could live with themselves as a coward in such circumstances?
Yet everyday most of us act like cowards. Not because we don't stop to help someone in need, but rather because we stand idly by while millions of people die moment by moment without knowing that God loves them. We are cowards because there is family and friends who have no relationship with Jesus Christ and we casually spend endless hours and years talking about everything under the sun, except telling them about the treasures of knowing Christ. We are cowards because we stay in our comfortable and secure homes while everyday women and children are being sold as slaves right under our noses in our cities. Will God ever forgive us our trespasses? Will God ever forgive us our cowardice?
I know that we don't like to see ourselves this way, as weak and cowardly. Who would? But after the initial pangs of guilt and remorse at knowing we could and should be doing so much more, we quickly fool ourselves that everything is o.k. We resign ourselves in the comfort of knowing that God really does love us and well, as the saying goes, "we do what we can."
This is not the way God sees things. Our cowardice is tantamount to adultery and murder. And it leads to judgment and death. Near the very end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus says:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega-the beginning and the end. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murders, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshippers, and all liars [italics mine]-their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Revelation 21: 6-9 NLT).
On first read, it sounds shocking and unfair to be lumped with sorcerers and murderers just because we may lack guts, but from Christ's perspective lacking courage is no different than unbelief. And this is because cowardice in spreading the gospel reveals not only an indifference to God's message but an indifferent, shallow love for the one we call Lord.
Jesus calls us to be different from the rest of the world. To seek God's kingdom more than anything else in this world. To want to be with God so bad that we are prepared to risk everything we own, forsake friends and family, and even to be able to say that for us "to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Christianity is nothing if not a bold, new lifestyle. It is a life that is changed by and chained to Christ by an overwhelming desire to be with God in an intimate way: "my beloved is mine and I am his." Beyond the limp expectations of a Hollywood Jesus, the real Christ makes some startling, hard demands on his followers. If we look at the whole twelfth chapter in the gospel written by Luke we will find a manifesto of courage that is expected of all Christians:
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more . he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God . Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions . Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes . Sell your possessions and give to the poor . Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning ."
Add to these other hard sayings of Jesus like "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life," "Love your neighbor as you love yourself," "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you," and you get the picture.
Christianity makes sense only if it ignites us to live courageously for the sake of Jesus' message of the kingdom of God. Christianity makes sense only if we live in such a way that we can rejoice even in flogging and persecution, if only to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not call us to timidity. He calls us to be courageous, radical, Christ-centered risk takers for his kingdom. We need to break free from our fear and silence. We need to be set free from our anxiety over rejection and ridicule. We need to break out of our inertia and boldly make known the good news that there is a better way to live. There is meaning in this vain, ordinary existence. There is hope beyond the misery, pain and wickedness of this world.
Jesus knows his message is a fearful one. It's hard to live this way and from a human point of view, really nearly impossible. Living beyond the slumber of a frail Christianity requires courage, the very character of Jesus himself and of all those we call saints. Even then, living courageously for Christ can only be done in light of the resurrection and the coming glory of God's kingdom. Isn't that what we should hear Sunday after Sunday? Isn't that what we should be telling our kids? Because when we finally figure it all out and Christ's message sinks in, we'll be like that exuberant man who finds a treasure in a field and goes and sells everything he's got to buy that field (c.f. Matthew 13:44).
So, can we love God so much that to lose everything would be gain if it meant we would be with Jesus? Does knowing Jesus mean so much to us that we could be courageous enough not only to give up everything, but also to want to share this glory with as many people as we can? Jesus Christ proved his love for us on a heinous and bloody cross. Being a Christian is proving we are courageous enough to let it all go to spread the good news of that beautiful cross.
John Kapsalis is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary.