This word hero has been following me around all week, and I'm not quite done thinking about it.
What I mean is, I've used the word and heard other people use the word around me in varying contexts all week. But then there was that chunk of the Office of Readings about Gideon and other judges that has really caught my attention as I ponder how heroes appear in Scripture.
The book of Judges is all about God's people Israel trying to settle into the Promised Land and the difficulties they face because the only time they awaken to their need for God is when they are getting their butts kicked by some invading tribe. If you read this analogically in the light of the New Testament, you are not far off to see this as a parable of the baptized (who are in the Promised Land) who pretty much live as they please, with some general adherence to religious practice but well mixed with worldliness, who turn to God in earnest when something bad happens to them.
What happens in this context is striking to me. This is not the moment when God pulls a Noah and wipes everyone off the face of the earth and starts fresh. No way. For a long time, if I had been God's advisor, that's exactly what I would have recommended. That is completely not God's way here. God has a plan and a purpose, and it is about bringing His children to greater maturity. Encouraging them. Helping them to grow up and into much bigger things. That's what He's always about.
In Judges 6 we get the picture of Israel being done in by Midian. They would swoop in and destroy everything. God sent them a prophet who told them, "Um, remember that God who brought you out of Egypt? Yeah, that event was sorta important, and you've forgotten about it. How 'bout you stop worshipping the Amorite gods, and remember whose you are." This message did not register with the hearts of the people. Prophets who get ignored are part one of God's plan. These are the people who remind us that our baptism makes us belong to God, and these words run off our backs like water off a duck. We don't get it.
And God knows we don't tend to get things unless we can see our salvation with our own eyes. So he sent Israel a hero. Gideon. He's that dude who's hiding in the winepress to thresh out his wheat because he's afraid of the enemy. Oh yea. Thanks God.
Now, turn on your analogical vision again, because here's something cool. What feast coincides with the wheat harvest? Pentecost! So it is Pentecost, and our hero is scared, and then an angel appears to him.
And the angel, working part two of God's plan, comes to this one man and announces to him his true identity: "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."
And Gideon even refuses to grasp that the angel is speaking to him personally. First, of course, he doesn't even realize this is an angel. Nah, this isn't God's message coming personally to me. Just some guy stopping to chat. And Gideon moans to this supposed guy about how God has abandoned them to their enemies. It's the old they should do something about this mess routine.
So apparently it is still the angel talking then, but Scripture has it "the Lord turned to him and said." This isn't someone stopping to chat. This is a divine summons. "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"
Gideon then goes on to make a lot of excuses, talk about how weak he is, and then he asks for sign after sign after sign after sign. And God works with him. He understands that Gideon's faith is weak, that his experience of God is extremely limited, and that he lives among a people who are mostly idol worshippers and who have lost contact with the true God, except to talk about Him. During the process of dickering, Gideon finally realizes he is dealing with the living God. He encounters the living God, and he is terrified. Excellent! God is getting somewhere with him.
God directed him to get rid of the idol altars of his father and his clan, which he did, but at night, because of fear. Conversion does not bring courage instantaneously. Nor does it bring great faith, because Gideon goes about his elaborate process of "laying fleeces" to make sure it really, really, really was God who appeared to him. When you start doing stuff that cuts into the lives of people around you, you sorta really want to know it's not just all in your head.
God understands all that, and works with him step by step all the way through. He teaches him how to raise an army that looks like nothing much to depend on. God wants only the most courageous people, not because he's going to send them into a violent battle, but because he's going to ask them to stand there with torches and horns and make a lot of noise and trust that the Midianites are going to kill each other with their swords, not Israel. And it happens. He doesn't want military might, He wants faith.
It's great stuff.
He lives a long life, and he has the wisdom when he is old to reject the people's notion that he or his son become king over them. Gideon tells them "The Lord will rule over you." He has learned that the only reason salvation came to Israel was because of God. Gideon was the instrument, he was the hero in the moment that the other people see, but the important work was that Gideon had become humble. He was formed by God, so he knew the only real power was Him.
This hero had made some mistakes that trailed behind him: He had tons of wives and a concubine to boot, so he had 70 sons, and they kicked up violence just as soon as he died. Sometimes God lets our mistakes stand in our lives as part of our formation.
This just seems a tremendously different picture of heroism than I've heard talked about. Heroes bring salvation to other people -- they bring Jesus, who is THE Savior. But God uses instruments. It's his way. We have an identity as Christians, through our baptism and through the gift of Pentecost in our lives. It is the living presence of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior, in our very being. Objectively, it is true. But subjectively, we need to wake up to the fact. God will patiently work with us. Being a hero, being a Christian, isn't about being a really nice, good person who does good things for other people. Rot. God doesn't make bad men good, He makes dead men live. All good things we do are done with mixed motives. That isn't anything to get scandalized about, it's just the truth. Christianity is not some NGO where nice people do good things. We are dead in our sin, just as Israel would have been dead unless God brought them through the Red Sea out of Egypt. Dead people don't do good stuff.
When we are made alive in Christ, we are called not to be nice church ladies bringing cookies to sad people, we are called to heal the sick and raise the dead. We are called to do impossible, supernatural things. And we don't even get to pick which ones we will do. We are called to adhere to God, to know who we are, to acknowledge who He is, to worship Him, to give Him our lives, and pour them out as an offering so that His life will flow through us and He will be Savior to the world.
So keep your "being nice" crap. That's why people reject Christianity, because they know they can "be nice" without God.
God calls you to be a hero, a Christian, and that means that you will feel like a fool, you will have your limits tested, you will be humiliated and humbled.... and finally, you will know with great satisfaction who you really are, and how totally amazing God is in your life, and in Himself.