Should We Have Heroes?

July 29, 2016

Should we have heroes? Should we look to people as examples, to show us what is possible and to spur us on to what we can become?

There are arguments on both sides.

On the one hand, honoring heroes can be dangerous. Some Sunday School curricula are based around highlighting certain biblical characters as heroes, as examples that we should emulate. Such curricula – whether by intent or not – can distort the story of the Bible, transforming it from a story of God and His acts to a story of great men and women. Think of Abraham, of Moses, of Samuel, of David; think of Peter, of Paul, of John, of Paul. Scripture tells us of their weaknesses, their sins, and their flaws. They achieve greatness by God’s grace in spite of who they are as persons. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is the hero in their stories.

We easily slip into similar errors when we make heroes of men and women in history: Stories of human achievement, of overcoming all odds, of tremendous sacrifice, and of devotion to country can idolize the person, overlook human sin, and minimize the role of God.

On the other hand, rightly told, stories of men and women like us who attain greatness can lead us to raise our vision above the commonplace, and help us to become what God intends us to be.

In a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, Eric Metaxas argues that our tendency in the US over the last fifty years to debunk national heroes is one of several developments that have put our republic at risk. The concept of a country united not by ethnicity and language but by the idea of freedom was strange, foreign, and new at time of this nation’s birth. If “all men are created equal and . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” then those of all classes, all incomes, and all religions are to participate in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” What does such government look like? How can it continue to exist? What keeps us together as a people from generation to generation? Metaxas argues that one important element is the telling and retelling of the stories of the great men and women who have exemplified the ideals of America and sacrificed for the furtherance of those ideals.

He contends:

We are more than political ideas. We are a people who live those ideas out in common. Knowing those ideas is a vital first step, but part of how we know them is knowing how they came into being and how they were subsequently lived out in history. So by pushing away these common stories of our heroes, we have allowed ourselves to be drained of our very common identity as Americans. Our emotions must be as engaged in “keeping” the republic as our minds are engaged in it. It is the real stories of heroes like Washington and Nathan Hale and others that help us to properly feel the power of the ideas behind them. . . . By deciding that every potential hero is too flawed to celebrate and venerate, or that such stories are somehow corny, we have done a grave disservice to several generations and to the country. (p. 131)

So Metaxas includes stories of great men to illustrate his point: Americans George Washington, Nathan Hale, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere, as well as Englishmen George Whitefield and William Wilberforce. Washington in particular “lives in a world in which virtue and honor are accepted as vital to the life they all wish to lead” – something we have lost as a country in the intervening years (p. 165).

Metaxas agrees with the point above about the danger of idolizing heroes. He is careful to argue that we must be open about the flaws of our heroes as well as the flaws in our country’s history:

Heroism and ignominy both are part of our history. The only question is whether, having seen both, we can repent of the one and rejoice and be inspired by the other. Or whether we will let one of them tempt us so far away from the other that we have a deeply distorted view. (p. 227)

So he says we should be inspired, even as we acknowledge the weaknesses and sins that come out in every country, and in all men and women.

So should we have heroes? How should we judge this biblically?

Heroes are a lot like parents. We parents must raise our children well; we must set an example for them; we must teach them Scriptural truths and live out those truths before them. We will fail. We will sin, against others and against them. We are flawed. But nevertheless, in a God-centered family, the children should be able to look at their parents, model themselves after the good aspects of their parents’ lives, and learn from their parents’ flaws.

Just so with heroes from past generations. We can and should look to a George Washington and learn from his devotion to others, his sacrifice for the common good, his wise leadership, and his critical stepping away from power after two terms. We can and should honor him, use him as a model, and be encouraged by his example of what God chooses to do through men. At the same time, we can see his limitations, how his view of slavery was shaped by his culture, how his view of God, similarly shaped by his society, was not entirely biblical, and be careful not to fall into similar errors.

Jesus is our only hero without flaws. We must look to Him above all. But we also need to see examples of other sinners, others stained like us, who through dependence on God, through turning away from themselves and giving up their own goals and comforts, glorify Him and serve their fellow men. Our role likely will be less prominent than theirs; our accomplishments likely won’t result in recognition now and biographies in the future. But as we follow Christ – and as we learn from and are spurred on by others who have followed Christ – we too can play key roles in God’s plan to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

So praise God for heroes. May we learn from their flaws, be inspired by their lives, living to God’s glory – and so become heroes ourselves.

Total Depravity: More Sinful Than We Ever Dared Believe, More Loved Than We Ever Dared Hope

July 17, 2016

By Fred T. Balbuena

In trying to understand humanity, it is apparent that people like to be told they are good, but they cringe when they hear how sinful and corrupt everyone is at the very core of their being. This is because all of us have an inclination to believe that man is generally good and that sin is basically a deficiency, imperfection, or a weakness. Take for example the optimism of the last 200 years which was ushered in at the Age of Enlightenment. It was a period in time where man was believed to be perfectible and that humanity was improving.[1] This idea is contrary to what Romans 3:10-12 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,” and Romans 3:23, “For all of sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” We intuitively assume we are capable of moral progress. But as we can observe in the history of humanity no generation can be said to be better or worse than others. Certainly, in our day, this idealism that has permeated Western thought no longer exists. It is now replaced by the contemporary philosophy called postmodernism. In the postmodern culture many sins are no longer called sins but something else, such as a bad judgment call, a mistake, oversight, weakness, or a psychological disorder. Today many people have this notion that there is no absolute. Truth today is basically defined as “whatever feels good” or “whatever seems right for you”, which has a devastating effect on society and individuals. We have created a new society where sin and conscience have vanished, and the prevalent mindset is to regard all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid. This is what postmodernity is doing by comprehending that the reality of sin cannot be eradicated.

We can liken this moral situation with the game of Monopoly where the players can accumulate a lot of money and get “rich”. Similar to this are our good works. We cannot assume that by accumulating human goodness we can please God.[2] The currency is only useful in the game, it cannot be used for any real purchases.  In the same way, good works are not the type of currency which God accepts. As Romans 14:23 says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” God requires divine righteousness through faith not human righteousness through works. Clearly, it is hard to exaggerate the importance of admitting our condition to be this bad, but we need to see sin in this light in order to understand God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. If we think of ourselves as basically good or even less than totally at odds with God, our grasp of the work of God in redemption will be defective. But if we humble ourselves under this terrible truth of our total depravity, we will be in a position to see and appreciate the glory and wonder of the work of God in salvation. One of my favorite quotes by Tim Keller in articulating the gospel is this: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

So we need a deeper understanding of the reality of sin and this is how we go deeper in our experience of God’s grace. Knowing the seriousness of our condition will make us all the more amazed at the greatness of our Savior. Comprehending the extent of our deep-seated rebellion, we will be amazed by the longsuffering grace and patience of God towards us. Ultimately, the way we worship God and the way we treat others, especially our enemies, are profoundly and wonderfully affected by knowing our depravity to the full. Let us cultivate a heart of thankfulness. The fact that we still believe in God every morning when we wake up is owing to God’s mercy and grace. God gives what he requires from us, and that is the obedience of faith. Acknowledge him in all your ways and remember that we need God’s gift of faith in order for us to be able to respond to his command to be holy. Let us also strive to grow in faith, for without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Oh, that you may you worship God and love people as never before. This is the result of a profound experience when you embrace the doctrines of sovereign grace.

 

 

 



[1] The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel – April 1, 2009

by James Montgomery Boice  (Author), Philip Graham Ryken, p.69.

[2] Ibid. pg.76.

Cry Out for Justice

July 8, 2016

Alton Sterling. And Brent Thompson. Philando Castile. And four as yet unnamed Dallas police officers.

We could go on: Thousands trafficked for sexual exploitation. About 2700 unborn babies killed yesterday in the US. In the absence of any effective government, warlords rape and pillage, leading millions to flee their homes in Syria, in Libya, in Congo. Meanwhile, even in this country, the powerful and well-connected get off scot free while the weak are punished to the full extent of the law.

We cry out with the prophet:

How long, LORD, must I cry for help? But you do not listen! I call out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene!  Why do you force me to witness injustice? Why do you put up with wrongdoing? Destruction and violence confront me; conflict is present and one must endure strife.  For this reason the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out. Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent. For this reason justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NET)

Or, as a contemporary songwriter puts it:

“I believe you will come, Your justice be done – but how long? . . . How long? How long until this burden is lifted?”

We are right to cry out. We are right to weep. We are right to long for justice, indeed to work for justice.

But Scripture both challenges us and enables us to look at the horrors of this world from God’s perspective.

  • As we ask, “How long must we look at evil?” God asks, “How long will this people despise me?” (Numbers 14:11)
  • As we cry out, “Justice is perverted!” God asks, “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)
  • As we long for God to act, He asks, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Exodus 10:3)

God challenges us to look within – to look at our own hearts, and to examine the hearts of our fellow countrymen. And when we look within, what do we see? Individually and as a nation: We have despised Him. We have mocked Him. We have rejected His revelation. We have arrogantly refused to humble ourselves before Him.

Scripture tells us that all the evil we see around us is the result of this human rebellion against God – a rebellion which we must admit, when we’re honest, is deeply ingrained within us. Indeed, all such evil is the logical consequence of that rebellion.

We can and should take palliative measures as a society that will lessen some of the suffering: Checks and balances in government; proper training for the police; equitable and efficient prosecution of criminals – both of the weak and the powerful; wise voting; holding up examples of honorable men and women. Furthermore, as individuals and as churches we can and must love and care for and assist the broken and hurting around us.

But suffering will continue. Injustice will endure. Violence will rear its head. The poor we will always have with us. Sin will thrive.

Until the Right Government takes over. That is, until the government is on Immanuel’s shoulders. Until God’s Kingdom comes, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Then His government and His peace will increase forever (Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 6:10).

After Habakkuk’s cry, God tells His prophet:

If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. . . . The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. . . . The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. (Habakkuk 2:3, 12, 20)

And the Apostle Paul assures us:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11 NET)

So cry out. Weep with those who weep. Help the hurting. Work for justice.

And know: The Lord is indeed in His temple. He offers reconciliation to all rebels through the wiling sacrifice of His Son. He will bring about His Kingdom at exactly the right time. He is King.