When I was a kid I went to Sunday School and learned all about the heroes of the Bible. People like David, Moses, Gideon, Samson, and many others. All of the amazing things they did through the power of God were brought to life through the wonder flannel graph. I marveled with childish wonder at the strength of Samson, the deadly accuracy of David, and the strategy of Gideon.
The first time I ever read through the Bible cover-to-cover I was around 20 years old. I remember being shocked that many of the "heroes" I had learned about as a kid weren't really very heroic. In fact, most of they seemed like downright scumbags! The picture I had seen of them in Sunday School as a kid was very incomplete. Yes, Samson was physically strong, but he was also a womanizer, liar, and a vengeful jerk. Sure, Gideon trusted the Lord and took on more than a hundred thousand Midianites with just 300 men, but he was also narcissistic and bloodthirsty and bent on revenge. And yes, David did defeat the giant Goliath, vanquish the Philistines, and lead Israel into its golden age, but his personal life was a shambles, consisting of womanizing, adultery, lies, and murder.
Why was I ever taught that these guys were heroes? It's no wonder that some people who, like myself, grew up in the church and learned all their Bible stories became disenchanted with the Bible after having read it as adults. All of those men and women we were told were heroes and who were worthy of emulation seem to be anything but. In my opinion, the people whom God used in the Bible are decidedly not heroes. A quick look at the accounts of their lives easily disqualifies them from heroic status.
The problem is that, in trying to find human heroes throughout the pages of scripture, we have inadvertently overlooked the one true Hero of the Bible, the only One worthy of admiration or emulation: God. God is the hero of the Bible. The Bible shows us no other hero but Him. All of the other characters in the story of the Bible are broken, flawed, damaged, sinful human beings who are empowered by God to perform heroic deeds in spite of their very significant personal moral failings. If we look to the Bible for human heroes, we won't find many, because human heroes will always have flaws. But that's not the point of the Bible. The point of the Bible is to focus our attention on the only Hero who is worthy of praise.
One of the amazing things about the Bible is its transparency. "History is written by the victors," as the saying goes, and usually the victors write their history in such a way as to magnify their own strength, courage, power, and glory. This is not the case when it comes to the Bible, however. In almost every instance of the Bible's portrayal of a person whom God used for his purposes, you not only get a sense of their God-empowered courageous actions, but also of their significant personal shortcomings. The Bible bares all when it comes to its heroes: their glorious victories, and their most depraved failings.
But this reality should not cause us to despair that all of our childhood Sunday School heroes are frauds. Instead, this reality should serve to magnify God's amazing grace, and leave us in awe and wonder that God can even extend his saving grace and use the scumbags recorded in the pages of scripture for his purposes.
Think about it: Samson was a man who was only concerned with his own selfish desires. This led him to womanizing and the loss of innocent life. But God extended his grace to him, and even used him in the process of delivering the Israelites from their oppressors. What kind of God does such a thing for such a lowlife as Samson? Only a truly heroic God could do such a thing. Or consider Gideon: fueled by bloodlust and a sinful desire for revenge, he went on a rampage and ultimately led his people away from God by creating a false object of worship. What kind of God could reach down and rescue such a wayward individual? Only a truly heroic God could do such a thing. And think about David: his power and lust led him from woman to woman, until he ultimately murdered a woman's husband so he could have her for himself, and then he tried to cover the whole thing up. Certainly only the most amazing of grace could come into his sleazy, murderous heart and deliver him from such sin. Finally, think about Jephthah, whom God raised up to deliver Israel from their oppressors, but who was also the barbaric thug that convinced himself that sacrificing his own daughter was the right thing to do. The kind of grace that is required for his redemption is no doubt inconceivable to the human mind.
No, there is no such thing as a Bible hero, and that's a good thing. Because if there were, they wouldn't need grace. Thank God that all of the people we read about in the Bible are failures. Thank God that all of them have debilitating character flaws. Because it is in the contrast between their failures and God's kindness towards them that his grace is most magnified. In other words, because our Bible "heroes" were such louts, we can more clearly see the true Hero who rescued them through his amazing grace.
So don't become disillusioned when you read about the failings of the people recorded in scripture, and don't try to fool yourself into thinking that they weren't actually as bad as they were. These were first class losers. But don't forget, they're just acting like sinful people, just like the rest of us. It just so happens that their failings are different than yours and mine, but we are all on the same level when it comes to our need for grace.
Unfortunately, we sometimes try to sugar-coat the characters of the Bible, especially when we teach their stories to our kids. We shouldn't. Instead, we should know them in the fullness of all of their magnificently sinful failures. Because when we realize who the heroes of the Bible aren't, we'll know who the true Hero is. The more we can know their (and our own) sin, the more we will know and appreciate God's amazing grace that saves them (and us).