Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Reading History has Taught Me About Heros

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When it happens, it hits like a sickness in the stomach. That person you so strongly admired, who you looked up to and deemed invincible, who taught you so much about life, or faith, or integrity- they've failed you.

Maybe a big secret sin is revealed, or they spoke careless words that pierced you, or you suddenly see their achilles heel- a weak spot that tarnishes their entire message.

It could be anyone. A parent, a professor, or a famous writer or preacher you've never met. Their influence so changed your life, gave you hope or joy or something solid to count on in a shaky world... that the fall out couldn't be more painful.

Looking back over the last decade of my life, I can pinpoint several instances in which a role model disappointed me in a big way. Each disappointment was a big blow at the time. Though the pain of these occasions has lessened as the years go on, I still remember them with regret.



Which brings me to history.

I recently read David McCullough's John Adams. It was excellent- McCullough presents our second president as a solid believer, a man of integrity, remarkably devoted to his wife, hard-working, and self-sacrificial.

If the sign of a good writer is his ability to engage your affections for his leading character, then McCullough couldn't be better. I was heart-and-soul rooting for Adams, never mind that his story had ended 191 years ago. I loathed Hamilton {maybe not a popular position nowadays ;)}, felt incredibly frustrated by Jefferson, and wanted to shake Washington for making Adams feel like such a heel.

Was John Adams perfect?


Definitely not. He had an achilles heel, just like every other fallen sinner. He could be daft at times, overly outspoken, and some of the positions he took in his political career were indefensible.

Which brings me back to my fallen heroes.

Fallen Hero #1. I was in high school, and a friend from youth group started repeating what a youth leader {whom I really respected} had said negatively about a personal role model of mine. Yes, it was gossip, and yes, the conversation shouldn't have happened. It reflected poorly on the youth leader I respected, for sure. But there was an element of truth in what was being said about my "hero," and it devastated me that 1) my hero had a big flaw, and 2) it was apparent to others... and being discussed by others behind their back!

Fallen Hero #2. In the middle of college I had a miniature crisis of faith. I'd given everything I could give to a certain evangelical group, and in the end it wasn't enough. I came out of it feeling hurt, insecure, and convinced that there had to be something more to Christianity than what I'd been presented with.

Enter a new "hero" who drew me up into a new understanding of the Word of God, theology, and how the Gospel really makes a difference in our daily lives. Old hurts started to heal, questions came back with refreshingly satisfying answers, and I started to feel passionate about the things of God again. I was reading great books, all from the recommendations of this individual, and the books were changing my life.


Two years later as newlyweds, this person had been a great influence on us both as a couple. Which is why it hurt so bad when some ugly things happened in the church, and this "hero" sat back quietly, on occasion even defending, the unsavory acts of the leader responsible.

We all need heroes. In a messed up world with so much tragedy, lack of character, and life's many disappointments, we want people who show us a better way. We want men and women we can rely on as honest, trustworthy, and courageous. We want to see these people accomplish great things so that we know we can do great things too. These people give us hope.

That's what makes their stumbling so soul-crushing. When one of our heroes messes up big, suddenly there is no hope. If they could fall, then of course we will fall too. If they weren't honest, nobody is. If our hero can't do the big hard things, win the day, and maintain an upbeat attitude with an unbending heart of integrity and purpose... then there's a good chance nobody can.

The biggest lesson that reading history and observing the failings of my role models has taught me is this: every one is a sinner. We all stumble, we all have those giant logs in the eye that whack others, we are all a hot mess. While I know this in theory, seeing it play out in the lives of people I look up to has brought it home in a bigger way.

That's why we need Jesus. Only Jesus is the God Man. He's the only one who lived a perfect, sinless life. And glory of glories, He laid it down for us- covering all of our ugly sin and failings with His precious blood, so that we could be reconciled to a holy God.

The Gospel is the best news. But redeeming history and our fallen heroes is this also good {though not nearly so significant} news: God uses big sinners to accomplish big things.

King David committed adultery, murdered, and covered up these ugly acts. Yet God calls him a man after His own heart and uses him to bring Messiah into the world {among other things}.

Peter denies Christ three times, and weeps bitter tears of regret upon hearing the rooster crow. The Lord forgives him and uses him to spread the Gospel and preach boldly, despite fierce persecution. Then he messes up big again, playing the hypocrite, and Paul has to call him out in front of the entire church. But the Lord forgives, restores, and uses him again until he dies as a martyr for the cause of Christ.


Or from history:

Thomas Jefferson, third president, writer of the Declaration of Independence, thinker extraordinaire; could never get his personal spending in order and died in crazy debt.

Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation, to whom Protestants owe so much, writer of beautiful glorious truths...but we Protestants don't like to talk about his latter years, in which he said some truly inexcusable things.

This gives me hope. I know my weak points, the sins I can't seem to shake, the ugly truths about my heart. Even with the ugliness and sin, God can do something with my life. I'm not a hopeless case! I have a purpose.

This is true for you too. No matter what it is- a lust problem, a money problem, a gossip problem, a laziness problem... you fill in the blank. God can redeem you, and He will accomplish His purposes for your life. Are you surrendered to Him?

It also puts my fallen heroes into perspective. Role models are helpful- we need examples to follow, as they follow Christ. But no person we admire can hold the weight of our admiration. They will all stumble under it eventually, whether it's a big secret sin brought to light or a subtler flaw in character observed upon closer relationship with them.

Acknowledging their flaws and humanity has enabled me to forgive, and to consider them in a more realistic light- roses and warts, a tangly and complicated mess. Still good things to glean, but no one is perfect.

Look at history. Look at the Word. Remember that everyone is a sinner. You can appreciate and value the good in someone's life without being devastated by their particular achilles heel.

You can also remain hopeful for what God might do in and through your life, because He is a God who delights in redeeming sinners, who is making all things new, and who always accomplishes His perfect purposes.

Here's real hope- for history, and the future too.

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