We don’t need to rescue biblical characters from themselves

The Bible is not a book full of heroes. It is notable just how many of its so-called heroes are, actually, a bit rubbish. And few books encapsulate the abject uselessness of God’s people – and even more so God’s leaders – than the book of Judges. A book dedicated to the bluntest of blunt tools that the Lord chose to use for his own glory. A glory that is all the greater because of the tools he chose to use.

But even outside of the book of Judges, even the great heroes of the faith all seem to have clay feet. You are hard pressed to find anyone in scripture who doesn’t lose the plot at least somewhere. There are the occasional noble examples, like Daniel, or those who seem basically decent, like Joseph, but they are notable by their scarcity. The Lord seems to delight in using absolute losers who would always be last pick for the football team.

Many of us forget this. There is a tendency among some to always try to rescue the biblical characters from themselves. The inclinations is to say these are essentially good people and the impulse is to try to justify their sin or smooth off their rough edges. This very often leads to a desire to set them up as great heroes of the faith for us to emulate. The Lord’s people, especially those chosen for specific tasks, must be blameless or, at least, sanitised by understanding.

In one sense, this would be understandable if those self same people didn’t hold to the biblical doctrine of total depravity. But they usually do. Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Of course the people God uses in his service will be various levels of rubbish because the effects of sin in the world taint everyone and everything. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Bible can be trusted as historically accurate and true is because it makes no bones about presenting its protagonists (except Jesus himself) as particularly useless. If you were making up a new religion, you just wouldn’t include half the stuff that it does because of the embarrassment factor. The fact that it includes such things despite how embarrassing they are to those writing them speak to the fact that they were probably included because it is precisely what happened.

Unsurprisingly, those who tend to want to rescue the biblical characters from themselves also tend toward some form of legalism. They can accept Paul would be a dreadful sinner before he became a believer, but the idea of sin post-conversion is a serious problem to them. That, they aver, isn’t how believers are supposed to act! Which, of course, it isn’t. But doesn’t change the fact that we often do. But because of this inclination, David and Solomon’s sins (for example) have to be played down and semi-justified. Doing so allows them to continue to expect the highest of standards from believers with little in the way of grace when they inevitably sin.

If we understand that the Bible is not a book of heroes to emulate, but sinners in the need of Jesus, our outlook changes a bit. We don’t need to rescue the biblical characters from themselves so we can emulate them, we can take comfort in the fact that even our very greatest heroes in the Bible were not perfectly faithful. They, as much as us, needed Jesus. The Biblical characters are not there principally as examples to us to emulate, but as examples to us of God’s grace. They don’t point us principally to how we might be faithful, they point us principally to our need of Jesus.

It also brings some comfort to those of us in ministry who feel utterly useless at the job we’ve been called to do. As often as I think I am not cut out to be doing this, I can look throughout scripture at dozens and dozens of others who not only said the same thing, but proved themselves apparently worse than me! I have not yet gone and broken every public commitment I have vowed to keep before the Lord like Samson. I have not abused my position of authority and forced someone else’s wife into adultery with me like David. I have not yet smashed up God’s Word, given directly to me, in a big moody like Moses. And I don’t say that as bully for me; I say that in full recognition of the sin I have committed. If the Lord still used those dudes, he can surely use me. And those issues of sin are to say nothing of the more general issues of incompetence and utter rubbish that the Lord seemingly worked through too.

If we want to save the biblical characters from themselves, we miss the bigger point that nobody is cut out for these things. The Lord can only work with sinful, incompetent losers because – since the fall – that’s all he’s got to work with! The fact is, the Lord calls the people he wants to be doing the things he wants them to do. Half the characters I mentioned above didn’t even want to do the job they were asked to do. But the Lord brought them to a place where they were going to do it anyway because he wanted them there. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have a clue and kept sinning all the time. The Lord called them to a task and, it didn’t matter what they felt about it, that’s who the Lord wanted and so it was happening.

In Christian ministry, something similar ought to be said. If you are in a ministry post, you are ultimately there because the Lord has put you there. We know it because if the Lord didn’t want you there, it wouldn’t have happened. You might feel inadequate, useless, whatever. If you’re anything like me, that is a recurring and ongoing thought. The reality is that nobody is adequate for these things. That is why Jesus came and he left us with the Holy Spirit. We can’t do these things ourselves. The fact that the Lord consistently worked through some absolute horror shows in scripture ought to tell us that he’ll manage to do something with and through us if we’re the people he has called into the role he wants us in.

I am prone to feelings of inadequacy. I am prone to feeling that I am just not built for this job. And, on one level, that is true because nobody is. We might not be the right person for this role, but feeling inadequate and unable is not the grounds for determining whether it is so. By that measure, hardly anyone in scripture should have been in their roles either. It mistakes that it is the Lord that does the building, not us. Which is why we should not try to brush over the inadequacies of scriptural characters, but ought to take comfort in the fact that if they were no good – but used by the Lord and definitely the people he wanted there too – then perhaps, maybe, the same might apply to us too.