How Do We Process the Failings of Our Historical Heroes?

by | Dec 19, 2019

The other day I learned potentially devastating information about a historical figure I admire. I trust you know what it’s like. When it comes to race and racism, these revelations seem far too common. We learn of a theologian owning slaves, advocating for segregation (and using Scripture to do so!), and so on. “How can this be?” we ask, trying to make sense of our world and theirs, their faith and ours. What do you do when this happens? How do you process the failings of your historical heroes? Here’s what I suggest:

 

Process Honestly.

Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” Friends, we not only damage our integrity when we turn a blind eye to the truth—we also sin.

So, no brushing off your hero’s sin, sugar-coating it as if it’s no big deal. No trying to atone for what they’ve done by naming all the good ways God used them. No citing historical context as justification, as if the compass for morality was but the clock of history. “He was just a man of his time,” holds no more water than a colander. The times may explain someone, but they justify no one.

Instead of running from your hero’s sin, look at it in its ugly face. Be honest about it. Lament it. It was wrong. It was heinous. Name it for what it is: the plain truth. The truth that, sadly, too often describes us.


For more on processing the failings of our heroes, listen to our interview with Matt Hall.


 

Process Humbly.

1 Corinthians 10:11-12 says, “Now these [judgments on our forefathers] happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Friend, whenever we get close to the sins of others, self-righteousness gets close to us. But who knows what egregious errors a generation 300 years from now will find within us, should the Lord tarry. This should cause us to humble ourselves with trembling. Had God’s grace not restrained us, who knows what kind of evil we’d be given to?

Does this mean we don’t denounce sin because, hey, we’re all sinners? Of course not. It means we do so knowing we are also broken sinners.

So, no “holier than thou” condemnations. If we denounce sin, let it be with “much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Let it be done with recognition that the only kind of jars God uses are those made with clay. If we go about processing failures this way, our humility may well lead us to hope—and hope will lead to joy.

Process Happily.

We never rejoice over sin, but we do rejoice that someone came to die for sin, and He is the only perfect person to ever live. Friend, if we want a perfect hero, then there’s only one candidate. Everyone else’s failures—including our own—ought to cause us to rejoice in His triumphs.

Indeed, there are hard questions to consider when we deal with failure, historical or present. Should someone be allowed back into leadership? Should we cite them in sermons or read their books? We need to go to the Book for wisdom, and even then we may disagree on the answers.

But what all Christians can agree on is that only Jesus was perfect. When our heroes fall from the pedestal that we put them on, we need not scramble to prop them back up there. We’d do well to interrogate why we want them up there so badly in the first place. Why do we instinctively defend their legacy? Have we wrongly lionized them? If so, we can lament, repent, and rejoice, because the true Lion loves us still.

And He is still perfect.


To read part two of this series, click here.


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray for God to grant His children boldness in processing the failings of their heroes.
  2. Pray for God to grant His children humility in processing the failings of their heroes.
  3. Pray for God to grant His children joy and confidence in the triumph of his Son.

 

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  • Isaac Adams

    Isaac is a husband, father, author and the founder of U?WP. He is the lead pastor of Iron City Church in Birmingham, AL. @isickadams

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