Who are your heroes, and why are they your heroes? I’m not really the type to have heroes per se, but there are people whom I admire. And over the last year or two, life circumstances have dramatically affected who qualifies as a hero in my book.
I think that most Christians are at least aware enough to recognize that the world’s heroes aren’t necessarily real hero material. They likely wouldn’t claim Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Jeff Bezos, or Oprah as their heroes (though they might certainly, and validly, admire certain characteristics or abilities that they possess, which is different from considering them a hero). But often, it seems that Christians’ heroes are just “Christian” versions of the famous people that the world fawns over. Many Christians’ heroes tend to be Christian famous people—the common denominator being that they still share a measure of the fame, success, wealth, visibility, physical attractiveness, or power that the worldly heroes do.
Of course, I’m not saying that it’s wrong for some of our heroes to be famous Christian pastors, authors, speakers, etc. But I do find it interesting that the Christian view of success in these cases isn’t too different from the world’s view of success: visibility, a “platform,” and lots of followers. People swarming them at conferences and asking for their autographs or to take a picture with them. People paid handsome honorariums to speak at this-or-that upcoming conference and enjoy all-expense-paid study cruises as featured speakers.
These kinds of heroes likely don’t have to worry about how they will afford to pay their bills next month in order to survive. They likely don’t know what it’s like to labor and receive no recognition. They probably don’t know what it’s like to not be able to publish a really great book because the Christian publishers don’t know who they are, and they don’t have a “platform” or “following.” They don’t know what it’s like to have so much that they want to give and contribute to the world, yet be homebound due to chronic illness or disability that makes leaving the house as formidable a challenge as climbing Mt. Everest, with all their gifts seeming to shrivel and die in front of their eyes without any opportunity to use them.
And again, I’m not saying that these people who have such earthly blessings and fame are thus invalid heroes, or that they are not worthy of emulation and admiration. Some of the people in this category I would consider heroes myself. Having money and power and “success” and fame doesn’t disqualify genuine people from being heroes. What I’m saying is that that’s not WHY they should be anyone’s heroes.
And I’m also saying that our definition of hero could use some broadening. I think that in heaven, our jaws will drop when we see which people God considered “heroes” in their earthly lives, and I’m going to guess that 90% of them are probably people that no one has ever heard of. In other words, blessed are the obscure on the earth, for they will be heroes in heaven. My biggest hero at the moment, whose identity I’ll protect, is a man who runs a small Facebook group for Christians with chronic illness. I don’t know him personally or where he lives. But I do know this: he deals with chronic illness, lives alone, has no spouse, has no career, and his children are grown and gone. I’m pretty sure he struggles financially (understandable given his circumstances). And I honestly don’t know how many friends he has, or how many Christians around him are actively seeking to care for him and purposefully invite and welcome him to be a part of their own physical family and lives (a major post for another time, as I continue to be shocked at how many Christians can’t seem to open their eyes outside of their nuclear families).
Yet this man writes with courage and conviction that no matter what he has lost, no matter what he’ll never have again, no matter how many Christians around him receive earthly blessings while he receives next to none, he will not curse God. He will not give up. He will keep the faith. And he encourages this small Facebook group daily with written devotions that—in my estimation—knock the socks off of whatever sermon, conference message, Gospel Coalition article, or profound Tweet that the rest of the Christian world is spending their time praising, demonizing, or childishly debating. This man is truly a hero that most will not ever even have the opportunity to emulate, even if they wanted to, because most will never suffer the loss of all the things that he has.
And someday, I just really, really hope that I get to see this man in heaven. I can’t wait to see him be seen by all for the spiritual hero that he is. I can’t wait to see him be rewarded. I can’t wait to see the extra joy that he will have when all things are restored—a joy, I wonder, that might only be possible for those who have known depths of earthly loss and suffering that most could not conceive.