Have you noticed how obsessed our culture is with fictional heroes? Hollywood has pumped out a flood of superhero blockbusters in the last two decades—Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Avengers, just to name a few. The movie industry keeps churning out sequels and raking in millions. Movie fans have an insatiable appetite for heroics on the big screen. As much as we enjoy watching fantasy films, the truth is real heroes don’t wear capes or costumes. Some of the greatest heroes of all time wore robes and sandals.
The Bible is the best source for true heroes in all of literature because the characters we study in Scripture were REAL not fiction. Most superheroes featured in movies are figments of someone’s vivid imagination. I hate to spoil the illusion, but Hollywood’s heroes are make-believe. Producers make them look real with movie magic, trick photography, stunt doubles, CGI and special effects. Heaven’s heroes were actual people who lived in history—ordinary people like us who overcame their natural limitations by trusting in a supernatural God.
We make a mistake if we place Bible characters on an unreachable pedestal. They were not heroes with capes but humans with “feet of clay.” That expression comes from Daniel 2:31-35, where King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a metallic image which had iron feet mixed with clay. That was the weak spot where the image (representing earthly empires) was struck by a stone (the kingdom of God) which grew and filled the world. “Feet of clay” is a metaphor for human frailty and is an idiom meaning “a surprising fault or hidden flaw in the character of someone who is greatly admired and respected.” Yes, we honor Bible characters, learn from them, admire them, and even try to imitate them, but we dare not idolize or worship them. Why? Because they were human like we are. They had faults, flaws, failures and conflicts like us. If we view Bible characters as superhumans and see ourselves as mere mortals, it robs us of faith that God can use us in similar ways.
We not only have feet of clay, Paul called us “jars of clay.” “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7, NIV). The contents are more important than the container. A clay pot is fragile, but it can hold priceless treasures. Yes, we are clay vessels, but God has deposited a treasure trove of true riches in these containers.
James 5:17, TLB reads, “Elijah was as completely human as we are.” The NIV says, “Elijah was a man just like us.” True, he was a powerful prophet who prayed fire down from heaven, worked mighty miracles and even raised the dead. However, he was also a man who dealt with doubt and depression, fought insecurity, wrestled with negative emotions and even suicidal thoughts. When we see how Bible heroes struggled with some of the same issues we do, it should inspire and give us hope that God can do great things in and through us too. God loves using ordinary people to do extraordinary things so He can get all the glory!
Another example is when Paul and Barnabas preached in Lystra and healed a man who was lame from birth. The witnesses were so amazed by the miracle they said, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (Ac. 14:11). The superstitious pagans called Paul Mercury and Barnabas Jupiter and tried to offer sacrifices to them believing they were gods. Paul quickly corrected them, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God” (Ac. 14:15). Paul made it clear he was human and refused to be worshipped.
Some have the misconception that “saints” are perfect or have attained a level of piety that “normal people” can never reach. As a family toured a cathedral, they stopped to admire the giant stain glass windows which featured biblical scenes and characters. A curious boy asked his parents who the people were in the paintings. They told him they were the “saints.” The tour group moved on, but the boy stared at the windows totally mesmerized. Suddenly, the sun lit up the windows with a kaleidoscope of colors. The boy was so impressed, he ran to catch up with his parents and said, “Mom, Dad, now I understand what a saint is.” When they asked him what he meant, he replied, “A saint is someone who lets the light shine through them!”
The saints we study in Scripture were ordinary people who allowed God’s light to radiate through them. Each Bible character offers rich spiritual insight that still applies to us today. Some overcame great obstacles and performed superhuman feats by their faith. Others endured incredible persecution and hardship because of their faith. Some rose from obscurity to national or international prominence. All placed their faith in Almighty God and were used by Him in unique ways.
I’ve always been fascinated by Bible stories. As a boy I read with wonder the exploits of my favorite faith heroes. Paul explained, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11, NASB). Centuries later, Bible characters are just as relevant as ever. While the world is consumed with fictitious superheroes, let’s revisit the real heroes of faith whose stories need to be retold. This world desperately needs true heroes.
A hero is “a person noted for courageous acts or noble character, who has special achievements, abilities, or qualities and is regarded as a role model.” Jesus is the greatest superhero of all time who defeated the world’s worst villains. One thing superhero stories all have in common is a sinister supervillain to make the hero look more heroic. In a book or movie plot, you usually have a protagonist (hero) and an antagonist (villain). This conflict creates tension and the clash of the two builds drama. Batman needs Joker to overcome. Superman needs aliens to defeat. Spiderman needs Sandman to conquer. Would we know about David if Goliath hadn’t reared his ugly head? Would we know about Moses if Pharaoh hadn’t killed babies and enslaved the Hebrews? Would we read about Esther if Haman hadn’t hatched his evil plan? Without a villain, the hero doesn’t have a rival to overcome. Jesus conquered the greatest enemies of mankind—sin (1 Pt. 2:21-24), sickness (Ac. 10:38), Satan (Heb. 2:14), demons (Lk. 11:20), death (Rev. 1:18) and hell (Eph. 4:8-10). Perhaps you’ve seen the meme, “Not all superheroes wear capes, mine wore a cross!”
So, take a fresh tour through God’s hall of fame (the Bible) and see what real heroes are made of. The masses may never know our names on earth, but we might be the next class of God’s heroes to graduate to heaven where our feet of clay will walk on streets of gold.
This article is an excerpt from Ben’s new book entitled Heaven’s Heroes coming soon.