Finding the courage to stand up for what is right is often not easy. In fact, one of the most difficult things can be to look honestly within ourselves to discern if we are holding on to fears or entrenched opinions that keep us from knowing and doing what is right.
Both courage and cowardice are on display in “Just Mercy,” a movie released late last year. It is based on the book with the same title by Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate whose great-grandparents had been slaves. Mr. Stevenson has been devoting himself for many years to helping people who have been prejudicially deprived of justice. The story centers on Stevenson’s efforts to win freedom for a black man sentenced to death row for a murder he did not commit. Stevenson reports how officials ignored overwhelming evidence of the man’s innocence to get a conviction to satisfy an outraged community.
It took unselfish love, integrity, and courageous resolve on Stevenson’s part to defeat the stubborn prejudicial resistance and threats he faced. But courage finally defeated cowardice and won the man’s release.
Accounts like this cause me to think and pray seriously about what enables people to think and act courageously – and what prevents them from doing so.
As with many things that affect the general welfare of humanity, getting things right often begins with individuals mustering the courage to look within themselves and ask, “Am I truly thinking in a way that will lead me to say and do what will bring the most good to the most people – even if it goes against what others think? Or am I stubbornly holding on to ways of thinking that put self-justification and self-concern above what’s best for everyone?”
It takes courage to engage in this kind of introspection, because it can reveal things about us that we would rather not face. An example from the Bible shows Peter, three times before Jesus’ crucifixion, not having the courage to admit to mocking inquirers that he knew Jesus. But he found the courage to face up to those lapses after Jesus’ resurrection when he felt Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him enough to follow him by engaging in the healing ministry. Peter answered yes each time, and he became a leader in the early Christian movement, opening it up to others regardless of their religious background.
Jesus set the example for us all. He relied on the wisdom and guidance of his and our heavenly Father-Mother God while fulfilling his healing mission to humanity. And Jesus said we can show our gratitude and love for him by following his example in spite of opposition from others. He said, “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well” (Luke 14:26, “Good News Translation”). He expected us to put our love for God ahead of self-concern in order to bring the greatest good to the greatest number.
God has given each of us the courage to face our own human weaknesses and selflessly overcome them. This is true because we are made in the image of God, universal divine Love, and truly have the natural ability to express Truth and Love. That’s why we have the capacity and courage to do right.
Whatever is unlike God, good, in our human character is not legitimate and cannot stand up to the power of divine Love. Knowing this gives us the strength and courage to face our mistaken opinions, prejudices, and fears and overcome them with integrity and Love-directed persistence no matter what anyone else thinks. As Mary Baker Eddy put it in the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power” (p. 192).
Confidence in God lifts us to higher, more spiritual, levels of thought and action. It opens the way for divine Love to free us from mistaken, even long-held, assumptions and opinions that have been holding us back. In this way, our lives and prayers bring healing to us, to our immediate family, and to the human family as a whole. Such are the blessings of introspective, courage-awakening prayer.
Adapted from an editorial published in the March 31, 2020, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.