Posted by: 15shekels | May 8, 2010

…conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities…

Holden Caulfield, Scarlett O’Hara, Raskolnikov, Yossarian, Dorian Gray, Billy Pilgrim, Jay Gatsby, Leopold Bloom: these are the selfish, cowardly, sometimes murderous anti-heroes of modern literature. Defined by Webster’s as “a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities,” we love anti-heroes because, when we’re honest, they remind us of ourselves.

Tragic and irredeemable, antiheroes are rarely depicted as having religious faith of any kind. And the truth is, when we encounter the cowards, the murderers, the failures of real life, we usually assume they are not deeply religious or in regular conversation with God. How quickly we forget that the “heroes” of the Bible act far more often like the anti-heroes of cynical post-modernism than the dashing leads in fairy tales:

-Abraham doubted God’s promises to give him an heir, so he slept with his wife’s maidservant (Genesis 16).

-When God called him, Moses refused several times, begging him to send someone else (Exodus 4).

-King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed so that he could marry her (2 Samuel 11).

-Peter doubted Jesus in his mission (Mark 8:32), denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72) after Jesus was arrested, and was nowhere to be found during the crucifixion.

We often talk about the dramatic conversion of Saul (who became St. Paul) as an example of God’s mercy toward sinners—Saul was persecuting the young church, arresting and approving the killing of Christians (Acts 8:3), when Jesus spoke to him from heaven and turned him into a leader of the church (Acts 9). We point to Paul with pride to show that nobody is ever “too far gone” for God to rescue and redeem.

Paul shaped up after his conversion. We are less likely, however, to remember that many of the Bible’s antiheroes have encountered God, experienced miracles, and are actively doing God’s work in the world, yet are still miserably antiheroic in their behavior.

Why doesn’t God give up on these men of such weak character? Why doesn’t he fill the Bible with tales of heroic godly men, men with deep integrity?

Perhaps God chose these obvious anti-heroes so that nobody would forget that there is only one hero in the 66 books of the Bible.

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

The truth is, we bring nothing to God except our sin. We deserve none of the applause or credit. It is God who gives us the desire for Him, God who reveals Himself to us, God who rescues and redeems and works in us through the Holy Spirit to gradually make us more like Him. In every one of the stories of the Bible, God is the hero. In fact, in the story of mankind, that began with the first humans and continues today, the overarching adventure narrative is one of our failure and our sin, and God’s rescue. We are the anti-hero. We are always the anti-hero. But there is also a hero—the God who came to earth to die for us and bring us back into relationship with Him.

If, in my worldview, I imagine myself as the main character, it is difficult to admit my flaws, because I will try to be a hero. If, however, I can admit that I am merely an extra in this ancient narrative, a victim who needs rescuing—an antihero, even—I can rejoice not in my own power, but in the victories of the great hero.

“I hear the Savior say,
‘Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.'”

-“Jesus Paid It All”

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