Could it be that there are in fact no heroes?
I want heroes to exist. We all do. We want there to be men and women who do life so well that we can emulate them; we want models of how to live out every corner of our existence. I want that. I need that.
When I was younger I did what any other sincere Christian looking for a decent role model did: I turned to the pages of Scripture, hoping to lose myself in the lore of the saints of old and there discover a pattern for my life. I was captivated by the stories of Moses parting the Red Sea, of David killing the terrifying Goliath, and Noah courageously obeying God and building a large boat.
The rest of the story
But as I grew older, I discovered the “rest of the story,” the parts of these biblical hero tales we don’t talk much about, especially to young children. (And rightfully so, I might add!) Nonetheless, as I flip through my mental catalog of Bible stories, the flannel board from my childhood falls to pieces. David is not a ruddy kid with a fuzzy Jewish afro who killed the giant and ruled the nation with wisdom and strength. He is a man wrestling between a desire for vindication against King Saul and a conviction that God’s authority must be respected. He is a man who lies to a priest and feigns allegiance to a wicked king. Both actions cost hundreds of innocent lives. And who can forget his scandalous affair and botched cover-up that led to murder?
The more you turn the pages of Scripture, the faster the flannel board heroes tumble. Moses, in his passion for God’s people kills a man. That same impatience later leads to a disastrous disobedience that prevents him for entering the Promise Land. Noah, after saving his family from the destruction of the world, got so drunk his sons had to walk in backward to avoid seeing his naked, shameful condition. Rahab, the woman who saved Joshua and Caleb’s life, allowing them to enter and eventually possess the Promise Land, was a prostitute. Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant — which in today’s world, might be like shooting Billy Graham’s assistant in the leg! And let’s not even get into his wholesale denial of the Messiah. Paul, the great apostle, had a temper that led to a few severed partnerships.
The list goes on. Where are the heroes? Where are the role models? Christians talk glibly about wanting to be like David. But do you really want to be taking life lessons from a lying, murderous adulterer? Be honest. You would never seek out a prisoner on death row and ask him if he would be willing to have breakfast with you every Tuesday so you could glean from his wisdom, even if his name was Morrie.
Is the Bible in need of heroes as much as we are? Or maybe we’re just missing the point. What if the Bible is intentionally devoid of heroes? What if the point is that there are no men and women who are so extraordinary that they were counted worthy of being part of God’s story? What if the point is that these biblical heroes are people just like us, wrestling with the same temptations and tendencies?
The Bible is not a compilation of hero tales. Think about it: The faults and failures of these great men and women could certainly have been left out. For many of them, the low point of their lives was not an essential part of their story. We didn’t need to know that Noah was drunk as a skunk and naked as a jaybird after saving the world. We could have left the David story after he restored the Ark to Jerusalem and ushered in Israel’s glory years. We didn’t have to see him as a dirty old man abusing his power to sleep with a woman and then get her husband killed. Couldn’t the fact that Rahab made her living by giving herself to the highest bidder have been left out? After all, she saved the lives of the men who would help lead Israel into the Promise Land. And did we absolutely have to know that Abraham, our great father of faith, was so riddled with fear that he lied about his wife’s identity in an attempt to save their lives?
Yes, we did. We needed to know that the heroes of the Bible are no heroes at all. They were flawed people like us, and God goes out His way to show their flaws to us. He has left the worst moments of our favorite Bible Action Heroes as a matter of public record in the best-selling book of all time. And He did it on purpose. Look left. Look right. All around us are humans. No heroes or perfect people exist today. But here is the point: none existed in Bible times either. What we can find today, as we did then, are people who simply learned to offer God their imperfect story and allow Him to weave His story into theirs.
And His story is a tale of salvation. It’s a story of God wrapping himself in humanity to redeem humanity. It’s a story of Him walking in our shoes, facing temptations familiar to us and emerging sinless. He’s our hero and then some. He went beyond what any hero could ever have done by making us new, calling us righteous, and then coming to live inside us so that we can actually become it.
What do you call a hero like that? The Bible calls Him Savior. In some sense, all the other Bible stories go out of their way to detail the flaws of their main character so as to anticipate the flawlessness of Christ. After reading about Moses’s anger, Noah’s drunkenness, Abraham’s lies, Rahab’s immorality, and David’s adultery, we are ready to see the perfect Son of God. When Jesus, the compassionate, selfless, truth-speaking, lost-seeking man from Galilee steps onto the scene in the pages of Scripture, our breath is taken away. We join the shouts of the crowds, “Hosanna!” Here comes our Messiah; here comes our Savior.
So, I may have lost someone I once called a hero. But I have regained my sight. Humans, not heroes, are the stuff of earth. Salvation is heaven’s gift. The humanity of all other biblical characters is intentional. In them, we see ourselves, and an example of how to surrender our brokenness to Christ; in Christ, we see our hope. In the end, this business of looking for a hero must only lead to Christ, the Savior of the world.
Copyright 2008 Glenn Packiam. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Glenn Packiam is one of the associate senior pastors at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the lead pastor of New Life Downtown, a congregation of New Life Church. Glenn earned a Doctorate in Theology and Ministry from Durham University in the UK. He is an ordained priest with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Glenn, his wife, Holly, their four children are enjoying life in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains.