“I Feared the People”

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point…. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 161

Saul may have been the king, but he was afraid of his people.

The first time he failed to follow instructions from the prophet Samuel, he explained that he was worried about losing his followers: “I saw that the people were scattered from me,” he said, “and that thou camest not within the days appointed…. I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).

The second time, he was even more direct: “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:10-24).

In contrast, consider the courage of Mormon, who wrote, “I fear not what man can do, for perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16, compare 1 John 4:18).

I wrote a couple of days ago about the importance of respecting the voice of the people, particularly when making collective decisions or decisions which will affect others. One manifestation of this principle is peacefully accepting the outcome of democratic elections. Another is obeying laws with which we disagree.

But in that same post, I made an important clarification: “This does not mean that we should allow our peers to unduly influence our individual decisions. It is important to stand up for what is right, even when it isn’t popular.” Accommodating the beliefs and preferences of other people is good. Allowing others to intimidate us into violating our own convictions is not.

Today, I will make decisions based on what is right, not based on how I fear others will react. I will remember that a virtue is only a virtue if it remains intact under pressure. I will strive to behave with integrity under all circumstances.

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