Recently, I read an article that called for a boycott of ministry heroes. It wasn’t high-profile ministers that were the problem.
It was their worshippers, their “groupies,” the clouds of zealous followers who seem to go wherever their heroes go.
According to the article, it’s wrong to put people on a pedestal, especially other Christians. Rather than trying to become a clone of a mega-church pastor or dynamic prophet, we should find our own God-given uniqueness, abilities, and field of labor.
Well, amen and amen. Sometimes we do get preachers and God confused. That’s not good for us or for those we turn into idols. And, believe me, I’m all for finding out who we are, what we do, and going joyfully with that flow.
I have a question, though: Does our hero worship, i.e., our tendency to idolatry, negate the idea of the Hero? Is it wrong to have a hero? The writer of the above-mentioned article acknowledges our need for role models and mentors. What is a “role model,” if not a hero?
As I read the Bible, it seems to me its writers had their heroes. They admired certain men for their courage and daring. Take the writer of 2 Samuel, for example; you can almost see a poster hanging in his bedroom depicting one of David’s Mighty Men in full battle gear.
Read the latter portion of 2 Samuel 23. Trace your finger down the list of the gibborim, the warrior-heroes. Feel the delight flowing from the pen as verse 20 was scribbled: “And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.” (By the way, does anybody know what an “ariel” was? My ESV Bible says the meaning is unknown.) In other words, my hero! This is just one of the heroes mentioned, and not all that’s said about him.
Then there’s that business between Yahweh and Gideon (Judges 6). Hear the gladness, almost a chuckle, in the angel’s sunny greeting, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor!” By golly, it seems God Himself has a hero! And I’ll bet you, He’s got more where Gideon came from.
What is a hero?
Before going further, we should define our terms. Among the definitions of “hero” at Dictionary.com is this: “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” (“Heroine” gets the same definition, save that she’s a woman.) It also mentions a person who, “in the opinion of others,” is regarded as a model or ideal. It doesn’t seem, then, to affirm the idea of a personal hero, i.e., my dad, my Sunday school teacher, etc. To please the dictionary, it seems that, in order to attain the status of Hero, a sort of fan club is required.
But surely most brave deeds and noble acts happen “off camera.” They’re seen by few, if any, and recorded by none save in memory, lost in time and mortality.
Take my dad, for example. I doubt anybody ever called him a hero. I never did. Yet morning after morning, he rose in arthritic pain to go out and work, providing a living for our family. Six days he labored, saving the seventh not for much-needed rest but corporate worship. He married a woman who became schizophrenic. To say life with my mother became difficult would be an understatement. Yet Dad remained true and faithful to her until his death. Isn’t this a model, an ideal to pursue? Isn’t this nobility in action? Dad would’ve turned red, I think, as much annoyed as embarrassed, if anyone had called him a hero. But that’s what he was.
A hero, then, is somebody who gives us something to shoot for. He’s a beacon, an example, the guy who not only shows us that it can be done, but how it’s done.
We can’t live without such guys, not if we want to live a meaningful, purposeful life. Surely the apostle Paul, the humblest of men, understood that. The same man who was appalled at the idea of having ministry groupies—“I follow Paul!”—wrote in the same letter, “Be imitators of me—as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He wanted no worshippers, but he saw the need for a human example. He recognized his position. He saw the demands of leadership, and he embraced them. If that doesn’t make a hero, I don’t know what does.
Christ, the Hero of heroes
Some suggest that Christ alone is hero enough for us, for the ages, in fact. Yet I can’t help but think of the little girl who was afraid to sleep alone at night. When her mother told her that Jesus was with her, she said, “I know, Mommy. But it’d sure be nice to have somebody in here with skin on.” True, there is but one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), but how do Jesus’ word and way become known to us if not by human intermediaries? Paul was the Corinthians’ living link between faith and practice. Two thousand years haven’t eroded the strength of such links.
It’s grist for a much larger mill than I’m running here, this subject of heroes and heroism, but I will cheerfully declare myself before I go: I believe there are heroes and it’s all right for us to acknowledge them as such, even in the church—especially in the church.
I will add just one caveat. Surely you’ve noticed that the heroes of the Bible achieve great things indirect and inverse proportion to their own weakness. The Bible is replete with heroes. Check out the Readers Digest condensed version in the 11th chapter of Hebrews: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Barak, Gideon, Samson, etc. But, far from being paragons of virtue, each had a fatal flaw—everything from a love for the grape to a lust for lewd women. They are, as Abraham (who should’ve known) called himself, “dust and ashes.” Needless to say, the rest of us fall into that same category.
Apart from the fact that we’re all sinners, consider also our basic human limitations. We hurt, we bleed, we cry, we die. Our spirits soar, but only a fictional character from Krypton can take his body along for the ride. Here was another fact of which the apostle Paul was all too aware. He knew human weakness—the thorn in the flesh. He also knew where true power resides, at the end of human strength: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In his insightful survey of the movies, Through a Screen Darkly, Jeffrey Overstreet writes about how Frodo was overcome by the dark power of the Ring. He mentions that Tolkien explained in a letter, Frodo “indeed ‘failed’ as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted.” Tolkien knew that the force of human will cannot triumph over evil. Our hearts are too weak, too corrupt. But the Hobbit-heroes of the Lord of the Rings are guided, sustained, and ultimately triumph through powers greater than their own.
A man once called me his hero. Nobody had ever called me that before, and I was quite flattered. But let me tell you something about this “hero.” He’s a weak, silly man who’s never known power save in his weakness. It’s that weakness that keeps me from having a lot of groupies (though, sorry to say, I probably have some) and keeps the “s” on my chest well-hidden and in lower case. Yet, if what I do helps anyone in any way; if it causes him to act nobly once or just plain think twice, I will accept the mantle of Hero.
I just hope I never meet one of those (shudder) ariels!
Gary D. Robinson, a preacher and writer in Xenia, Ohio. Check out his blog at garydrobinson.com.
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