Most little boys long to be a hero—saving the day with their bravery and skill. As moms, however, our greatest desire is for our sons to live in a way that exemplifies and glorifies God. In this article, Michele Morin shares how examining the lives of well known heroes of the Bible with our boys can help them to build courage and faith. And how it can point them to their ultimate Hero and Rescuer: Jesus Christ.
I open the pages of my Bible. As I read I encounter stories about real people. I see their encounters with a compassionate God who welcomes the shifty and the shy, the bombastic and the bumbler, the liar and the lecher. Grace paves over some pretty rocky personal landscapes in both the Old and the New Testaments. Even so, scholars say one of the strongest arguments for the reliability of the Bible is its apparent determination to paint every character with absolute truthfulness. It celebrates their strengths and describes their obedience. But the Bible also faithfully details their weaknesses and reveals their failures.
Heroes of the Bible have feet of clay just like the heroes our sons and daughters flock to and admire in real life. Even the Marvel universe of heroes has clued in to the dramatic impact of a hero with a few chinks in his armor.
BEAUTY IN BROKENNESS
Allowing the Bible to speak for itself about the highs and the low points in the careers of biblical heroes lays a foundation of realism for our sons. This comes alongside their observation of spiritual leaders, teachers, and family members who inspire them. Since it turns out the only way off a pedestal is down, we build faith and foster resilience in our children by exposing them to strong, heroic role models. Especially those who have learned to trust God even within the reality of their brokenness.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When my sons were growing up before my eyes, I made a point of identifying both their strengths and their weaknesses. I knew full well that God is able to use both in the fulfillment of His plans and the advancement of His kingdom.
For example, as a confirmed introvert, Moses’ temperament was better suited for his 40-year stint as a fugitive minding sheep than for his role as Israel’s leader. Even so, he was God’s man for the job. And he leaned into leadership by tapping into the strengths of others.
Leaning on Others
When God called him into his highly-visible position, Moses reminded God that public speaking was not his forte. “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). He then recommended big brother Aaron as a front man. Later, Moses agreed to train “able men” to serve as judges alongside him. He humbly admitted he was unable to carry the load by himself (Exodus 18:21).
This honest biblical portrayal of Moses is the rule and not the exception. God has not been reticent to reveal the dark side of His chosen leaders’ and spokesmen’s track records. So we have been given the gift of pre-written, real-life accounts of God powerfully present and at work in the lives of imperfect men. Our sons’ shyness or anxiety, their impetuosity or their short fuse. These things will be no barrier to the God who has promised to work “all things” together for good and for His ultimate purposes.
LEANING INTO GOD’S LOVE
More than anything, I want my sons to lean into the absolute certainty of God’s love. And in my search for a hero to support this trait, all the evidence from the New Testament points to John the Apostle. John wore the title “the disciple Jesus loved” like a badge of honor. He preferred it even to name recognition in the gospel he penned.
Love for Jesus prompted John to leave the security of his fishing nets behind to follow Jesus into an unpredictable future. His account of Jesus’ life includes the best-known and most-quoted verse in the Bible, attesting to the love of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Focused on Love
John had a front row seat to Jesus’ lavish demonstration of love. A thirsty Samaritan woman and a curious Pharisee received equal opportunity, attention, and exposure in back-to-back biblical accounts. The word love appears 57 times in the Gospel of John. This is more than in the Synoptic Gospels combined. Then, in John’s comparatively short first letter, the word love gets a stunning 46 mentions.
John was the only one of the original 12 to die at a ripe, old age. But even he suffered persecution. Writing from exile, in his last communication to the early Church, the Book of Revelation, John unveiled startling images. But his letter ends with a God who perseveres in loving invitation to the very end.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who is thirsty come. And let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
FORGIVENESS FOR FAILURE
The life of King David affirms our more sensitive sons who write poetry, play a musical instrument, and carry around the weight of big feelings. David’s best known words have comforted generations and are rooted in his earliest memories of tending his family’s flock of sheep:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
David the psalmist, however, was also David the warrior. This reminds our rough-and-tumble sons to leave room for access to their softer side. It also prompts them to allow God to use their courage and strength for His glory. David’s skill in battle was celebrated throughout the nation. And it allowed him to establish a peaceful reign over all Israel during his administration.
Of course, David’s story also has a dark side. And the grim consequences of his sexual sin alongside his words of anguish over his guilt serve as a stern reminder for our sons of the importance of purity. It shows them the wisdom of reserving intimacy for the life-long commitment of marriage. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:3-4a).
BUILD FAITH IN A FOREVER HERO
David’s story provides a perfect turning point in this conversation about biblical heroes. Because the positive prompting to share their stories and to let their lives loom large in our boys’ imaginations and dreams comes with a crucial caveat. As we turn our kids’ minds and hearts toward Scripture, we need to take special care in how we present the biblical heroes of the faith. Let’s return to the most well-known story from David’s life as an example.
David’s brothers have been deployed in Israel’s never-ending war with the neighboring Philistines. Jesse, their father, sends his youngest son to deliver bread and cheese to the boys at the front. David leaves his sheep and sets off early in the morning prepared to make enough cheese sandwiches to feed an army. But the first thing he notices is that he has walked into the middle of a smack talk session between Israelites and Philistines.
Goliath, a well-armed warrior who stood nine and a half feet tall, had issued a challenge, day after day. “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us” (1 Samuel 17:8b-9).
Needless to say, Israel’s warriors were not lining up in droves for the honor of taking on the Philistine’s champion. David was aghast. Offended by what he saw as cowardice and shameful shirking, to his big brothers’ horror, he volunteered to take on Goliath himself.
A Shift in Perspective
Freeze the story here (Spoiler alert: David wins). For the purpose of anchoring our children with strong biblical heroes, let’s consider how we usually frame this scene for our sons—and for little Sunday school students throughout history. “And you, too, boys and girls, can be a brave warrior for God. You can stand up to bullies. And You can share your faith at recess. You can say no to drugs.”
When we put our sons in the shoes of the story’s hero, we’re actually preparing them to be good little moralistic, therapeutic deists who want to do good and believe that holiness is within their grasp. Everyone wants the benefits of a happy life. So obeying God may or may not be the motive. The main goal is good behavior with a desire for the resulting positive outcome.
Our Children Are Not David
Little boys and girls can be brave or kind or unselfish or honest up to a certain point. They can do enough to satisfy you and their teachers, certainly—all by themselves. A lost person can make ‘good choices’. They don’t need Jesus for that.
What all of us, including our sons, need Jesus for is found in the true and faithful exegesis of that well-loved story. Because in that story, they are NOT David. Neither are you and neither am I. We are all cast in the role of the frightened Israelites, quaking in our war shoes and hiding our faces behind our quivering shields every day when our besetting ‘Goliaths’ issue their challenges.
A Greater Hero
Jesus is the Champion who comes on the scene. He slays evil on our behalf, not just at the risk of His life, but with the certainty of death. This is the Truth that gives our children a place to take their fear and their sin. Knowledge that Jesus is the true Hero of the biblical narrative and that all other heroes either pre-figure Him or operate in the power of His Spirit is the cautionary foundation our sons need. Only a believer can make good choices, behave well, or act heroically for the purpose of glorifying God.
Just as Moses led the nation of Israel in the power of God. And as the Apostle John experienced the transformation from Son of Thunder to beloved disciple because of the love of God. Just as King David persevered in faith because of the forgiveness of God. Our own right standing with God comes to us from outside ourselves. The Reformers called it an “alien righteousness,” and it comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s rescue initiates the work of the Spirit in our hearts to produce actual holiness that takes the form of spiritual fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—every single one a miracle of grace.
A right understanding of biblical heroes provides a model for many desirable traits that we long for and pray for in our sons. But the Bible is a book about God, not a self-help manual. Scripture provides the faithful reader with a blueprint not just for good behavior, but for godliness.
HERO WORSHIP OF GOD
Recently I observed as my small grandson placed one hand on the door frame, shifted his weight to one foot, and then put the other small boot toe-down on the floor. Looking at his dad, he checked his hand position and then assumed the facial expression he deemed appropriate to the occasion, a conversation among ‘the guys’.
My grandson’s imitation of his dad is endearing. But it is also instructional. If you want to be like someone, even if that Someone is God, you study their actions and do your best to imitate and replicate them. So if you want to be like God, and if God has revealed Himself through inspired writing as One who values and embodies particular qualities, then you have your marching orders.
Who Should I Be?
A laser focus on the character and attributes of God impacts on our sons’ character. It also shifts their perception for decision-making as they grow and mature. When they are seeking the will of God rather than getting stuck in the classic question, “What should I do?” our hero worship of the God of the universe prompts us to ask the better question: “Who should I be?”
We must always return to the Truth of the gospel. It’s not self-help or advice for “better living,” but rather Good News. So, what is the Good News? It is simply this. Jesus has come into the world and lived in human skin, bled human blood, and conquered death—our greatest enemy. In Him, our sons find their true Rescuer and the only reliable Hero.
Which flawed heroes’ stories in the Bible resonate with you? What have you learned about God through them? Consider what stories you were taught in Sunday School as a child. How might you perceive differently now as you read them through grown adult eyes?
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