What lights a fire in your heart? What drives you to get out of your comfort zone and set off into the dangerous unknown? What is that inward power, that energy that gets a man or a woman out of their seats and into action–the kind of action that protects life and brings lasting change and good to society? Where does that kind of heat come from?
The ancient Greeks had very rich languages and dialects. Greek is a lot like math with its precision. Many of us are familiar with the many Greek words for love, one of the most common and oft-misunderstood words we use. Storge. Phileo. Agape. And, of course, eros. These words talk about the various manifestations of love.
They also gave us the word thumos. Doctors and nurses will recognize its kinship with thymus, one of the organs in our immune system. It is not a common word when used in the world of biblical studies—an area very important to many of us.
Thumos may be described as “an inner fire that motivates action.” It is used of the soul, but, unlike psuche—from which we get words like “psychology”—it describes the soul with a fire lit under its seat. It is protective by nature.
I first came into contact with writer Paul Coughlin a few years back. His book No More Christian Nice Guy radically took apart my idea of virtue, namely, that being nice and being good are not necessarily the same thing. Jesus is the embodiment of goodness. But he wasn’t always nice. And He didn’t always play nicey-nice. He would get into a lot of trouble today, upsetting the applecart. Being good, rather than just nice, has a way of doing that.
I’ve been reading another of Coughlin’s books lately. Unleashing Courageous Faith: The Hidden Power Of A Man’s Soul picks up on the themes introduced in NMCNG.
Thumos is the fire, the motivation that enabled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion civil rights—a fight that ended in his death. It enabled Martin Luther to challenge a corrupt and ossifying Church with the need of reform. It enables people to defend those who are bullied. It is the enables action—change of behaviour—not simply a change in an intellectual position, a modified idea. To use one of Bill Hybels’s favorite metaphors, it’s what pushes Popeye to say, “That’s alls I can take; I can’t takes it no more.” Then out comes the spinach, the muscle and the bad guys are put in their place.
So….how’s your thumos level today?