The Bible is brutally honest about the characters it portrays. That's one reason I trust it.
The first man, Adam, is no hero. He goes along with his wife and breaks the one law (one!) God gave him. He has to move out of the garden of Eden to the equivalent of a single-wide trailer. Days of delight are gone, replaced by days of sweat. He can't keep the kids from fighting; one of them kills the other. Sure, he lives to a ripe old age, but let's face it - he screws up everything for the rest of us.
Noah starts off pretty good, building the ark and riding out the storm. But he doesn't do very well starting over. He gets wasted one night, and one of his boys sees him passed out and naked (or neekid as we say in the South). Through his hangover, he winds up cursing his grandson, which made family reunions a little tough.
Abraham follows God's call to leave home, but when things get tough, he throws his wife Sarah under the bus, telling her to go into Pharaoh's house and be one of his concubines to save his skin. God gets him out of that jam. Later on, when all the fertility treatments haven't worked, Sarah tells him to sleep with the cleaning lady, and they'll adopt the baby. When Abraham is 99, God shows up and tells him the long-promised baby is coming. Abraham's response is to laugh in God's face and tell him it's impossible, because he's old now and Sarah's womb is way past its prime. Abraham's faith is like Swiss cheese - there's a lot of holes.
When you dealt with Abraham's grandson, Jacob, you needed to keep your hand on your wallet. He was always looking for the advantage, willing to cut any corner needed so he would come out on top. The trickster wound up being tricked himself when he went to take a wife. He thought he was getting a drop-dead gorgeous wife in Rachel, but woke up the day after his wedding with a huge hangover and a wife so ugly she made your eyes water. It turned out Leah, though hard on the eyes, couldn't turn around without getting pregnant, while Rachel couldn't have a baby to save her life.
In classic neglected-wife fashion, Rachel told Jacob to give her a baby or she would die (nag, nag, nag). Jacob found one thing he couldn't trick his way out of, so he finally prayed, and Rachel had her baby. They named him Joseph and spoiled him rotten. Jacob's boys didn't get along with the favorite, sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery, then told old Dad he was killed by a wild animal. Jacob spent years grieving his favorite son, only to find out God was at work in the whole thing. He would have to go live in Egypt for a while, however, and that set the stage for all kinds of trouble later on.
Moses appears about 400 years later and was such a cute baby he got adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Palace life wasn't so bad, except he never quite fit in. He wasn't really an Egyptian, not really a Hebrew. He tried to right a wrong and wound up committing a murder. He had to get out of town fast and found himself on the backside of nowhere. He wound up marrying a farmer's daughter and was free labor to his father-in-law for 40 years. Then God told him to go back to Egypt. Protesting he wasn't any good at political action movements, God told him to go anyway, he'd take care of Pharaoh for Moses.
God did work the whole thing out, but Moses got stuck with a group of complainers that made a Baptist business meeting look like a convention of Positive Thinkers. Moses got so mad at them he lost his cool and did his own special brand of sin, which cost him a trip to the Promised Land.
I could go on, but you get the idea. David was a man after God's own heart, but he was also a man after Bathsheba's body, which was a problem since she was married to someone else. A few whispered commands and that little problem was taken care of, but it set off an unrest in David's palace that lasted until the day he died. His son, Solomon, was supposedly the wisest person who ever lived, but he wasn't so smart about women and money. If trying to love two women is like a ball and chain, Solomon was shackled up pretty good with his 600 wives and 300 concubines. When he wanted to do a new building project he'd raise taxes again, or conscript more folks for forced labor. Before he was cold in the tomb, his kingdom was broken in two.
The New Testament folks were no better. Peter was always putting his foot in his mouth. James and John were always arguing about who was the greatest. Thomas made Eeyore look like Joel Osteen. Everyone thought Matthew was a traitor. Simon was always arguing politics. Judas lived pretty well on what he stole from their bank account.
Even Paul was no saint. He jailed a bunch of Jesus followers before he saw the light. Even then, he had a pretty sharp pen if you crossed him. He even had trouble getting along with Barnabas, who got along with everyone.
There is only one hero in the Bible, and that's Jesus. This is the guy who could wipe out the Avengers with a side glance, but he lays down his power to die on a cross, to pay the penalty for the sins of all the folks listed above and everyone else in the world. Death couldn't hold him, however, and he came out of the tomb. There wasn't any stirring soundtrack, just an empty tomb, some passed-out temple guards and some bewildered women. God can be very understated.
The mistake most of us make is trying to be the hero of our own story. Nobody in the Bible does a good job of it; what makes you think you can? The one hero in the Bible, Jesus, offers you a life where you don't have to be heroic; you just have to follow.
Following is a lot easier than leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Try it.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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