My dad loves to recount the story of stumbling upon my sisters and me hiding with all our dolls in our closet. When he asked us what we were doing, we told him we were pretending to be Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, hiding Jews from the Nazis. He had read Corrie’s inspiring true story, The Hiding Place, to us, and she had immediately become my hero. I longed to emulate her courage and devotion to God.
Heroes are out of vogue in the church today. More than once, I’ve heard sermons and read books recounting a beloved Biblical narrative—perhaps the story of Noah or Moses or David and Goliath—and afterward, the pastor or author emphasized the character’s failings and concluded the story by saying something like, “So we can see that really, Moses/Noah/David isn’t the hero. Jesus is the hero of this story.” I know that the pastors and authors who have said this mean well, and I also know their point: that no biblical character except Christ has lived perfectly.
But is it true that failings and flaws disqualify biblical and other historical characters from being heroes? Are we only eligible for hero status if we are perfect? If so, then of course Jesus is the only hero.
However, I don’t think this idea is really a biblical one. Hebrews 11, the beloved “By Faith” chapter, lists many of the Bible’s heroes, referring to them as the “great cloud of witnesses.” Their marvelous acts of faith are catalogued in 37 verses, ending with the words I pray will be true of my own life: “And the world was not worthy of them.” (Heb. 11:38) Although this list contains well-known sinners such as David, Rahab, and Samson, it doesn’t dwell on their failures but praises their faith. According to the author of Hebrews, they are to be remembered as heroes despite their many shortcomings.
Further, saying Jesus is the only real hero in the Bible actually ends up diminishing him in the process. Jesus isn’t just a hero. He is God and the Savior of all mankind. That’s more than heroic. Rather than drop all great men and women of history out of the category of hero, we should remember that Christ is in a totally different category. And it’s a category open to only three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Our children know that they cannot attain Christ’s perfection, and if we are doing our job in discipling them, they know the good news of the Gospel is that they don’t have to attain it to earn their salvation or God’s favor. Christ’s finished work has already accomplished that. But they do need to see what it looks like as fallen humans to serve God in the midst of hardship, suffering, and persecution. That’s where godly heroes come in.
Christianity has a rich history of men and women from all backgrounds who have acted heroically in the name of Christ. We should teach these stories to our children as models for them to imitate, rather than make efforts to point out where these men and women failed as proof that they aren’t really heroes. Although intending to exalt Christ, this latter attitude tears down his people whom he has redeemed and restored, which is neither necessary nor helpful to our kids. The stories from the Bible and church history of faithful, courageous believers who sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel inspire our children to greatness by offering them examples of sinful men and women just like them who through God’s grace, acted righteously in the face of evil. They offer hope to our kids that they, too, can be brave defenders of the faith.
Every single hero of the faith was a sinner who failed to obey God’s law perfectly, but rather than disqualifying them from hero status, their response to that failure is often what makes them heroes. We see that they chose to persist in obedience despite their failures. They chose to act courageously even though they were afraid. They chose to continue to pick themselves up and keep running the race after they fell.
This should encourage us to introduce our children to the great cloud of witnesses in Scripture, to read them biographies of godly heroes, and to introduce them to modern-day saints. Rather than encouraging them to worship fallen human beings, lifting up godly heroes to emulate encourages our kids to follow in those heroes’ footsteps by worshiping the one true God. It shows them that faithfulness, courage, and sacrifice are noble virtues for which to strive.
Finally, we should bear in mind that regardless of our involvement, our kids will seek out heroes to emulate because that’s how they’re wired. They naturally look for role models to follow. We can encourage them to look to righteous men and women from the Bible and church history as those heroes, or we can let them choose their own pop culture and sports icons instead. Godly heroes will point our children to their own Object of worship: Jesus Christ, the risen Savior.
Jesus alone is our children’s Lord, and that position is magnified rather than threatened by having Daniel or Ruth or William Tyndale or Amy Carmichael as their hero.