What does it mean to be brave and courageous, especially in our current contested culture? How does being brave connect to our faith and are there Bible characters we can learn from? An obvious example might be David, but I don’t personally encounter that many giants, wild animals or renegade kings.

Instead, I want to start with one of my personal heroes – Daniel. Daniel was a young man plucked from his home and carried off to a foreign country. There he was subjected to some pretty serious cultural indoctrination to make him walk, talk and think like a Babylonian. But Daniel resolved not to defile himself.

A long walk in the same direction

Now, I haven’t been carried off to a foreign land, but the world around us is changing rapidly and so it can feel like we are in exile. Theologian Walter Brueggemann defines exile as the experience of knowing that one is an alien, and perhaps even in a hostile environment where the dominant values run counter to one’s own.” When the Israelites were carried off into exile some suggested it would only last a year or two. But Daniel, like Jeremiah, realised it would be a much longer period of 70 years. Daniel’s bravery wasn’t a rash or impulsive rush to overthrow his captors. His courage was demonstrated in his obedience – in the sense of Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.


Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine and negotiated a test period followed by a diet of vegetables and water for three years. At the end of that time, he and his friends were brought before the king and found to be ten times wiser than all the magicians and enchanters in Babylon. They were given positions of authority in the Babylonian empire and the first chapter of Daniel ends with a note that Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus – the end of the 70 years of exile.

Throughout the book, Daniel continually demonstrates bravery. He told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and the interpretation. He continued to pray regularly despite decrees to the contrary, and showed courage in the famous lion’s den.

Courage is a heart word

Our word for courage is linked to the heart. The author and speaker Brené Brown explains, Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor’ – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’” Daniel is trained in the Babylonian story, but he carries an alternative one in his heart – and that story is the story that defines him.

We live in a world of conflicting stories trying to shape our identity and our understanding of who we are and how we are to live. These cultural stories offer us fulfilment found in success, family, love and acceptance. The God story often jars and conflicts with our culture but it offers us all a beautiful, true and compelling vision. We are invited into this story of mercy, grace, forgiveness and transformation.

Daniel knew that he was shaped and formed by the God story. He knew the story, and the God of the story. Courage and bravery come from the heart and his heart was shaped by his worship of God. While he was given a Babylonian name and learned the language, he resolved not to defile himself. He showed commitment, obedience and character because he knew who he was and whose he was. He prayed and sought God in each situation. His bravery was not a momentary act or heroic deed; it was a long obedience to God in very challenging cultural times.

"We live in a world of conflicting stories trying to shape our identity and our understanding of who we are and how we are to live."

The bravery of the midwives

Another example of bravery and courage in the Bible is the story of Shiphrah and Puah. They were midwives in Egypt. Pharaoh told them to kill the Israelite boys, but they feared God. In an act of incredible bravery, they defied Pharaoh and let the boys live. Then there was Moses. He made mistakes and was a poor speaker, but he summoned the courage to stand before Pharaoh and demand he let God’s people go. Esther became queen, essentially by winning a beauty pageant. But when the time came, she bravely entered the king’s presence unannounced to plead for, and save, her people.

The call to be strong and courageous is a recurring one in the Bible. But at the heart of the biblical story is the moment when God humbled Himself, being born in human likeness. Power and strength were redefined on the cross as the entire fabric of the cosmos was ruptured in this pivotal moment. Bravery and courage are demonstrated in laying down our power for the other.

The disciples’ initial response to Jesus laying down His life was to hide in fear. Brave Mary had to come and tell them that Jesus had risen and even then they didn’t believe her. However, by Acts 4, we read about the boldness of Peter and John proclaiming that in Christ there is salvation. They have seen with their own eyes death becoming new life and victory being snatched from the jaws of defeat. Their friend Thomas has placed his hand in Jesus’ side.

Boldness of the disciples

The word in Acts 4:13 that is translated as boldness’ is the Greek parrhesia’ which literally means to speak everything’. It relates to free speech, courage and speaking the truth. Peter’s understanding of the truth of who Jesus is means that he can’t help but speak out – even if that means being arrested. Peter and John were later released and the believers gathered together to pray for boldness – to speak the truth freely. In Acts 4:31 we read that the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”

In our contested culture, our prayer is surely the same as those early believers – to speak God’s word with boldness. Like Daniel, we must navigate our cultural context, knowing the God story and the God of that story. Like Shiprah, Puah, Moses and Esther we must be prepared to bravely stand before those in power. Like Mary, we must be witnesses to the good news even in the face of doubt and disbelief. In our post-truth world, we must be like the first believers praying for Holy Spirit boldness and bravery to freely speak the truth – about everything.

Dive into more of our hope-filled, topical theology articles, think pieces and expositions here on idea Online.