I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.
-- Joshua 1:9
Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was once required reading in high school English classes from coast to coast. Set on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War, this 1895 masterpiece is so realistic that veterans often wrote to Crane asking him to identify his regiment. In fact, Crane was born six years after the war – the fourteenth child of a Presbyterian minister!
The Red Badge of Courage tells the story of Henry Fleming, a naïve youth who – against his mother’s wishes -- joins the Union Army to find his measure of excitement and glory. But Henry soon discovers the horrific realities of war when his regiment attacks the enemy from behind. Henry and several other soldiers run from the carnage and desert. Wounded and bleeding by a stiff blow from a rifle butt (delivered by another “lost” Yankee), Henry eventually makes it back to his regiment’s camp with the help of a fellow soldier. Remarkably, no one suspects the protagonist of desertion.
Henry’s baptism of fire quickly changes the innocent young man into a battle-wise soldier. He’s involved the next day in several frontline skirmishes with the Rebels. Afterwards, his colonel compliments the former coward for his bravery in combat. The transformation was both remarkable and complete. It was just hours before that Henry abandoned his comrades and ran for his life. Now, he held the line and encouraged them to fight even harder.
The Red Badge of Courage is not an overtly Christian novel. But as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid) and former seminary student, it’s likely that Stephen Crane knew a thing or two about redemption and the Power that enables regular people to do impossible things. It’s also likely that most of us can identify with Crane’s character, Henry. We may not be facing a fierce enemy on some faraway battleground. But we do face a countless number of intimidating opponents – opponents that we have no hope of conquering on our own. Poverty, hunger, crime, and disease are a few obvious examples. Is it any surprise that Satan uses fear as his primary weapon against God’s saints? After all, fear is the opposite of faith. And it’s the devil who plants the seeds of doubt that cause us to ask ourselves, “What if…” It’s that tiny question that leads us to follow our natural tendencies toward inaction and procrastination. (Which is just what the enemy wants.)
The good news is that Christ-followers are called by their Creator to be strong and brave. We’re not alone on the battlefield. And we can be encouraged by the average people (like you and me) that God enables to do extraordinary things. David – the obscure shepherd boy – killed the fierce giant Goliath with a single, well-aimed stone from a slingshot. And that same shepherd boy eventually became the King of Israel and the one God called “a man after My own heart.” Likewise, the Apostle Peter literally dove into the deep end when he accepted Jesus’ call to walk on water. It was only after he began to doubt that Peter began to sink. But Jesus saved him when His follower called out in faith. This same follower – who would also deny Jesus multiple times – ultimately became a bold preacher of what the Book of Acts called The Way. Two books of the New Testament also bear his name.
As Christ-followers, we can take heart: God doesn’t expect us to solve the world’s problems. Instead, it’s by seeking and using His power in faith that we can indeed make a world of difference. Even if it’s one person at a time.