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In Search of More Heroes

We love our heroes. Whether they are warriors like Sir William Wallace, humanitarians like Mother Teresa, or civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are captivated by those that reach beyond reason, risking their lives, for the good of humanity. And when we look through history, we find heroes in every society—men and women who sacrificed their own well-being in hopes of bringing freedom and opportunity to the people they loved.

Now even though heroes come in all shapes and sizes, we often have an idealized image of what a hero should be like; we call that hero a superhero. What’s fascinating about America’s quintessential superhero is how much he has evolved in just one generation. Thirty years ago our superhero of superheroes was Superman. Superman was an incredible specimen, with strength, power, and natural ability beyond human imagination. And Superman’s human persona—Clark Kent—was a man of impeccable character: humble, gentle, quiet, innocent, pure, and perfect in seemingly every conceivable way. Without blemish or flaw, Hollywood portrayed Superman as a Christ-like figure, coming to earth from another world to save the human race.

Thirty years later, Hollywood has brought a new super superhero to town; we call him Iron Man. Unlike Superman, Iron Man’s strength, power, and ability are not natural; they are a product of human innovation. And Iron Man’s human persona—John Stark—isn’t the nicest guy. To be honest, John Stark is a bit of an ass. He’s arrogant and self-righteous, forceful and loud, and he’s prone to get drunk on alcohol and women. Iron Man is imperfect in seemingly every conceivable way.

So, what’s the deal? Why is Iron Man portrayed as the kind of guy you would never let your daughter date?

Over the past few years, I’ve read and heard Christian leaders and critics of culture lament how our standards of moral excellence have diminished as a society and how that’s evident in Hollywood confusing good with evil by portraying even our greatest superheroes as morally suspect. These same Christian leaders and critics then go on to lament how this lack of morality is reflective of the next generation—a generation that has lost its moral compass and is no longer interested in the things of God, calling church irrelevant.

Holy cow, Batman! Is that really their conclusion, that the next generation is drawn to imperfect superheroes like Iron Man because it has lost its moral compass? Seriously, have they read the Bible?

Beside Jesus himself, is there any other biblical hero that isn’t morally suspect? Just consider a few of the more famous biblical heroes: Noah liked his wine and got passed-out drunk; Abraham pimped his wife and slept with her maidservant; Jacob deceived his father in order to steal his older brother’s blessing; Moses murdered a man and hid the body; and David took another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and then sent the man on a suicide mission. Which of these heroes would you let your daughter date?

You see, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and all the other great men and women of faith are not heroes because of their moral excellence; they’re heroes because each of them defied reason and lived by faith, risking their lives in order to bring freedom and opportunity to the people they loved, the people God loved.

Maybe the problem with the next generation isn’t that they’ve lost their moral compass or that they’ve become disinterested in God. Maybe the next generation has simply become disinterested in a faith that places more emphasis on moral excellence than on bringing freedom and opportunity to people in need. Maybe the next generation needs more heroes—men and women who neither hide nor flaunt their moral imperfections, but honestly and openly struggle with their flawed humanity as they sacrifice their lives for the people they love, for the people God loves.

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