“It is true, we love the handsome, we applaud the learned, and we fear the rich and powerful, but we even worship and adore the virtuous. Nor is it strange, since men of virtue are so rare, so very rare to be found.”—Ben Franklin
This week something crazy happened in the world of basketball. An unknown young player named Jeremy Lin became an overnight sensation when he went from last man on the bench of the New York Knicks to starting point guard/leading scorer/team sparkplug in the space of a week. Lin was actually 5 days away from being released by the Knicks when his coach finally put him in, desperately looking for a point guard who would bring the struggling team together. Suddenly Lin, who had already been cut by two other teams this year, was averaging 20+ points a game, dishing out crazy assists that made his whole team better, and even beating Kobe Bryant in a showdown on national television as he lead his team on a five game winning streak. What a week! Add on to all that the facts that Lin is the first ever Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, the first Harvard grad to make it in the league since the 1950s, and a vocally devout Christian, and it looks like the NBA has their own answer to Tebow-mania. It’s time for Lin-sanity!
Today many in New York are calling Lin a “hero.” I have to admit that I get caught up in the excitement surrounding Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. They are fun to watch, and they are fierce competitors who play hard even when they seem to be outmatched by their opponents. Both always seem to give it their all, and both always seem to love their game. Those are the things that I enjoy seeing in players when I watch sports. And while I won’t attribute their success in the athletic arena directly to God as many Christians want to do, I do appreciate the public stand they are taking for God and the Gospel. I find that both of these athletes are not only men who entertain me once a week, but more than that they are men I can respect. They seem to be some of the best examples available to us today of Christians who are glorifying God with words and deeds. I only hope that they continue to live virtuously and to command our respect, whatever happens in their athletic careers.
I have thought a lot about the Tim Tebow phenomenon over the past few months, the way the public has embraced him and elevated him as a hero, and all his popularity leads me to ask, “Who are the heroes in our world today?” Who are the men and women that we look to for leadership, for inspiration, for courage? Who are the men and women who have taken a stand for something and remained firm, who have not flip-flopped according to whims of public opinion, who have lived virtuously and exceptionally? Who are the Washingtons and Lincolns of our own day? Is Tim Tebow really the best hero we have got today? (Not that I have anything against Tebow.) A whole generation is growing up whose only heroes are athletes and rock stars, celebrities who have really done nothing heroic in the first place. Where are the national and religious leaders who can inspire Americans in all walks of life to live virtuously and do hard things?
And what about Washington and Lincoln themselves? I don’t think that the people of today look as intently at the examples of the heroes of past days as they could, or should. Rather, the focus seems to be more on tearing down heroes and debunking the myths that surround the lives of great men. It is true that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, John Adams was a harsh father, Wesley was an absent husband, and Luther had an evil temper. Even King David, the man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and a murderer. Actually, Lincoln is one of the few great men from our past who hasn’t had his reputation later tarnished by some hidden fault, but that is not to say he was perfect. By no means were any of these men perfect, nor have any of the other men and women been perfect who have been regarded as heroes down through the ages. The question remains to be asked: Are we doing ourselves a favor by revealing the “truth” about our heroes, or are we actually doing ourselves a disservice, tearing down the very examples that we need to learn from? It’s funny that all of the comic book superheroes had weaknesses that they had to overcome so they could save the day. We mustn’t play the role of the villain who sought to exploit those weaknesses and prevent the real heroes from being heroic.
I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we focus too much on the faults of great men and women. Sure, we need to recognize that they messed up at some points in their lives, but isn’t that really just recognizing that they are great humans, but humans nonetheless? I’m tired of the pressure that many in society push on us to disregard the accomplishments of the past because of the sins of the past. How are we supposed to develop a new generation of heroes in our own day if we have no heroes to look to from the past? Who will model for us the virtue and strength of character that flows in the veins of a person who has taken a stand for the truth? I think the root of the problem lies with us, not our heroes, especially when we begin to consider why we try to debunk their heroism. We do it because we want to feel good about ourselves. Rather than use their examples to improve our own character, we prefer to destroy theirs so we don’t need to improve. If George Washington was as rotten and messed up as I am, why should I worry about becoming a better man? I don’t need to because we are already on the same level. Have you noticed the intense scrutiny that Tim Tebow endures every week? Not only his game, but also his personal life are placed under a microscope every week, and most of the world is watching to catch him when he messes up. If he messes up, none of the rest of us have to feel bad anymore for not serving the poor or being chaste or telling others about Jesus. I hope that Tebow can endure and stand firm, because, personally, I really need him to be a hero in my own generation.
I think that it’s pretty clear that we destroy heroes so that the standards are lowered for the rest of us. But the truth is that we need those standards, and we need the heroes who push us and inspire us to do great, courageous, heroic things. It’s why the Bible points us to people like Abraham and Jacob, Moses and David, Esther and Ezra, Peter and Paul. We need their examples of faithfulness, courage, Godliness, love, and leadership, and we gain all these things from them in spite of their shortcomings. It’s why history points us to Luther and Wesley, Washington and Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Billy Graham and countless others…and maybe even Tim Tebow. We need their examples too. I think we are pointed to these people because they stood for something. I really like the imagery of standing firm. Heroes stand firm when everyone else stands down. In the famous words of Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”
It is Jesus who saves us and it is Jesus who makes us good people as we walk with him and are molded into his image. However, sometimes we need examples along the way, examples of mortals who teach us how to be strong, how to be courageous, how to be loving, how to care for others, how live freely, how to die bravely. Heroes are the real-life examples that teach us each of these things. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Don’t be afraid to imitate the heroes that Scripture and history have given to us. Let your character be strengthened as you are inspired by their own.
In my next post, I’m going to write about a man I have adopted as one of my heroes. His story and his writings challenge and inspire me in a way that very few have before. I am in awe of how he stood resiliently for the truth of Scripture when most of the world around him was not willing to take a similar stand. But his story is for later. Until then, rely on the strength and grace of our greatest hero:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph.6:10-13)
Here is a good post someone else wrote about saving the old heroes. Check it out!