Your Biblical Heroes are Fatally Flawed

Clay_FeetI heard it again. I was listening to a speaker the other day and he said something that I’ve heard many, many times: “The Bible is unique because all the heroes of the Bible are so flawed, and the Bible doesn’t hide their flaws.”

I’ve probably said it myself, but this time, it got me wondering: what heroes are we talking about? Exactly how many heroes does the Bible have?

If we are using the term “hero” in a purely literary way, then this may make some sense. In literature the hero is the main character of the story, the one we identify or sympathize with, as opposed to the anti-hero or “bad guy” who tries to thwart the hero’s goals.

In this sense a hero isn’t necessarily heroic; Walter Mitty is the hero of James Thurber’s famous short story, but he is heroic only in the secret life of his daydreams. For this reason it’s more common to refer to the protagonist and antagonist of a story instead of the “hero” and “anti-hero” to remove any inkling that the hero must be heroic.

But when we talk about the heroes of the Bible, I’m pretty sure we still think of them as heroic, as good guys that we should pattern our lives after.

And we can take hope that we can be heroes too, as flawed as we are, because the Bible’s heroes are flawed too, just like us.

That’s a good thought. None of us are perfect, but we can still do some amazing thing.

I’m not so sure, however, that the purpose of the many flawed “heroes” of the Bible is to encourage us to greatness in spite of our flaws.

When it comes to the Bible you have to ask yourself at what point a hero’s flaws knock them out of the hero category?

I don’t know, I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that so many of the so-called heroes of the Bible aren’t so heroic and their flaws aren’t minor; they are in fact fatal flaws.

Take Joseph, for instance. Sure, he’s kind of snotty towards his brothers when he’s young, but it’s kind of defensible because God gave him the dreams and all he’s doing is telling the truth, and his brothers sell him into slavery. He nonetheless rises in Potiphar’s household, resists Potiphar’s wife’s advances, is unjustly imprisoned but rises to the top of Pharaoh’s Cabinet because God helps him interpret dreams.

So he’s a good guy, right?

Except…during the seven years of plenty he confiscates much of the crops of everyday, hard-working Egyptian farmers and stores them in the king’s storehouses. Then during the famine that follows he sells the people’s abundance back to them at a time when they don’t have much to buy it back with.

First they sell their livestock, then their farms, and finally, when they have nothing left, they sell themselves.

Joseph makes them slaves.

Why is slavery OK when it’s the Egyptian people who are enslaved, but evil when it’s the Hebrews?

What about David? Like Joseph, he starts out as a good guy, a man after God’s own heart, but in the end he is a pitiful figure. He covets another man’s wife, then commits adultery, then murder.

So his firstborn son is killed.

Just like Pharaoh’s firstborn son was killed.

Which isn’t a coincidence.

By the end, he’s so feeble and dotty that he doesn’t see that he’s being manipulated by Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan into making Solomon king rather than the rightful heir Adonijah.

David dies weak, foolish, and impotent. Hardly a life to exemplify; more like a word of warning. If this can happen to a man “after God’s own heart,” it can happen to you.

And so it goes. Moses, prohibited from entering the Promised Land because of his anger and disobedience.

“Wise” Solomon, impoverishing his people while allowing idols in the Temple.

Flawed characters, yes.

Heroes? Probably not.

I’m not sure that it’s proper to talk about the flawed heroes of the Bible. Most of the so-called heroes of the Bible are provided not as examples to follow but as cautionary tales.

Jesus is the only hero of the Bible, and he isn’t flawed. I’m not referring so much to his lack of sin, for, admirable though that is, it’s hardly exemplary. Who can follow that example?

But he’s a man of peace and justice who was faithful and obedient and in heroic fashion wouldn’t back down in the face of death.

I’m pretty sure we are supposed to follow that example.

Image Credit: Mary Ann Unger, Clay Feet, 1990, Clay with Graphite and Pigment, 8″ x 9 1/2″ x 5″, Private Collection, New York

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