When I was a kid, I had all kinds of heroes. I was a huge fan of the ninja turtles, Superman, Batman, and any number of others. All of these heroes were upright and driven by an intense sense of right and wrong, motivated by a passion for doing good. They were, in a word, spotless. They stood upright and fought evil. There is nothing wrong with kids having such heroes. After all, these are the kinds of things that we want our heroes to be. The problem is that real life heroes are not quite so immaculate in their character.
The truth that our heroes are ultimately flawed is one that is unavoidable through history. It is an irritating but unavoidable truth. Nowhere is it more unavoidable than in the Bible. So many of those narratives of heroes that we see from the Bible are sandwiched between and rivaled by their even more momentous mistakes. Just taking examples from the book of Judges, Gideon is a mighty general, or a timid and faithless doubter. Jephthah is a shrewd and ingenious leader, or he was a money seeking opportunist that ended up sacrificing his own daughter. Samson was a mighty warrior, or he was a petty and impulsive murderer/vandal who frequented the local prostitute. These are a few examples of “heroes” in a single book of the Bible and their stories are rife with sin, brokenness, and impossibly obvious despicability. These examples run through the scriptures, church history, and I think there will be more to come.
Are these types of heroes useful or just depressing? In 1st Corinthians 10, Paul talks about heroes of the Old Testament. This is what he has to say;
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and fall drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. -1 Co 10:1–5
In other words, Paul looks at the Old Testament and recognizes that heroes with whom God was actually happy are the rare exception. Why are these examples included in the Scripture? I think there are two major reasons. The first is that God gives us examples of what not to do. Paul continues on in 1st Corinthians.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Co 10:6–13
These example of broken heroes are given to us first as examples in what not to do. Certainly, the story of King David is a warning of the havoc that can be imparted on a family through the sin of adultery. Likewise, the story of Abraham is a warning of trying to force God’s plans on our terms. The Arab and Israelite people are still fighting because of this one. These are lessons of the faithlessness, immorality, and idolatry that we should avoid. It destroys people’s lives.
This first use is meant to teach us. The second use of these heroes is very different. It is not primarily a warning or a teaching example, rather, it is meant to encourage us. In Hebrews we see these heroes, despite their imperfection, enter into the hall of faith. When we look through Hebrews 11 we see example after example of people who were broken and imperfect, and yet they were heroes. They were not heroes because they had heightened ability, with razor acumen, or with uniquely perfect righteousness. They are heroes in that they trusted, not in their own heroic ability, but in God. This is of the utmost encouragement. Why should it encourage us? It should encourage us because like our ancient counterparts that we often look up to, we are broken people. I don’t think I just speak for myself here, but I am a sinner, I say the wrong things, I do the wrong things, and on the days that I am not preoccupied with the former I think the wrong things. This is painfully obvious to me. I am a broken person. Despite this, when I look into the Bible, I see God working wonders and doing great things through broken people. When we look at the heroes of the Old Testament, we can see people who despite their brokenness God uses. God uses them because despite all their faults, they trust in Him. I may not have all that many unique gifts, I may not have particular power or ability, I may not have an unwavering sense of righteousness, but I can trust God. In this, God can do great things. The encouragement is that God can do great things through a man or woman who trusts in Him. I hope that God will give us the grace to be that kind of hero for those that follow us.