Heroes and Villains

“The head of the statue was made of pure gold, … its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.” Daniel 2:32,33

They say you remember the first time. I know I certainly do. It was in the 50’s. Yes, I was alive back then! The pastor I remember was a hero to many. My aunt and her family attended the crowded worship services of his congregation. My parents listened most Sunday evenings to the radio broadcast of his sermons. He was a force.

Then he was gone. I remember the whispers – I was around, but young. Too young for the specifics, but old enough to know he had broken his marriage and was suddenly persona non grata. The adult conversations were mostly angry in tone. They often spoke of others whose faith had disappeared along with the disgraced pastor.

He was the first, but sadly – so sadly, not nearly the last. A spiritual leader, effective and almost larger than life, toppled from the heights by uncontrolled behaviour. And so often, among the debris are those whose faith, if not lost, is severely weakened. Like those adults way back in the last century, it is tempting to be angry with the one who leaves many with their beliefs shaken not stirred.

Though what amazes me after all this time is not that someone demonstrates feet of clay along with golden abilities. No! What astounds me is how we human beings crave heroes. Don’t get me wrong. Giants of the faith are a divine gift to The Church. But so often our spiritual well being becomes dependent, not on the God who alone can sustain us, but on one of God’s servants, who like us is a fallen and fallible creature.

Our world swoons for celebrities, fixating on their every action, allowing them to dominate one’s sense of wholeness and to determine concepts of life’s meaning. Such hero worship isn’t healthy. Let us affirm with thanksgiving those among us who are exceptionally gifted and able. Let us not raise them up to a place in our lives that belongs only to God.

Then if something profoundly sad happens in the life of one of our leaders, our faith will not suffer a serious setback. Rather we can pray for her or him – knowing that but for the grace of God, that could be us as well.

Ian Shaw lives in Simcoe, Ontario, and attends St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church