The recent scandal at Penn State has for all intents and purposes toppled an icon not only of college sports, but sports in general. Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was idolized by untold millions of people (including yours truly). More than that, he was genuinely looked-up-to by many as one of the only truly honest and honorable men in a sports culture that seems to be all about the almighty dollar.
He never took the shortcuts to winning and by all accounts always viewed himself as an educator first, football coach second. He was equally as concerned with his players as students as well as athletes. The Nittany Lions prided themselves not just on wins, but also on their remarkable graduation rate.
But in a matter of days, his once sterling reputation has been forever tarnished. In this case it is not about something he did – it’s about what he failed to do. His was a sin of omission, and it was an omission of epic proportions. Of course, he is not alone in that regard when it comes to this scandal. Many people could have prevented the alleged abuse from taking place – tragically, no one did nearly enough.
Sadly, it seems that everyone involved was more concerned for the reputation of the university than the safety of children. In the end, both were done irreparable harm.
We seem to be running a bit short on supply of heroes. And we could really use one right about now.
But where are we to look? Athletics? Not if someone like JoePa can’t even pass muster.
Maybe Charles Barkley was right after all.
In his book Hero of Heroes, Iain Duguid writes,
“Now it is entirely natural for us to have heroes. It is part of who we are as human beings to have dreams and aspirations, to want the very best for ourselves and for our children. But Jesus turns upside down our definition of what a hero is” (p.3).
We seem to be hard-wired to look for a hero, to look for someone to believe in, someone to look up to as a role model, teacher, and example. We seem to have a built-in need for someone else to give our lives meaning and significance.
Sometimes we look for that in our spouse, but that is a weight that no husband or wife (no matter how godly) is able to bear. After all, he or she is also a sinner in need of the Savior. Who knows how many marital problems or even divorces are the result of such a misplaced burden.
Sometimes we look for our meaning and significance in our family. In what we usually consider the best cases, kids look for it in their parents, and think of their Mom and Dad as their heroes. In a sense, many of us parents look to our children in the same way – they are the ones who give our lives meaning. When a parent lives vicariously through his child, he is, in effect, looking for his hero in his child. That is a weight no child should have to bear.
There is a word for that. It’s called idolatry.
We know that idolatry is forbidden in the 2nd commandment (Exodus 20:4-6), but we may not have thought through the reasons given for that commandment. God tells us that we are not to bow down to or serve idols because He is a “jealous God” (v.5). But notice how He describes Himself in that verse – “I the LORD your God.”
An idol is something (or someone) who we try to put in the place of the LORD our God. And nothing but the LORD our God can bear the weight of that burden.
Not only are we failing to show love to our God when we commit idolatry of any form, but we are also shooting ourselves in the theological foot as well. Only He shows “steadfast love” to thousands of generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (v.6).
Idols, in the end, never love you back. They always end up letting us down.
As for our God, He loves us first. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
We aren’t wrong to look for a Hero. We just need to stop looking for our Hero in all the wrong places. In the end, it’s unfair not only to us, but to them as well. They can’t help but let us down. It’s really all they can do.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who we were always meant to look to. He alone is able to bear the burden as our Hero.
Hebrews 4:14-16 says,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
So next time you find yourself tempted to look for a hero in all the wrong places (politics, sports, family, even your pastor!) remember that there is one real Hero – the sinless Son of God who came and lived the perfect life in our place, and died in our place the death that we deserve because of our sin. His perfect righteousness is accounted to us through faith.
He alone is the One who gives us access to the throne of grace. He alone is the one who gives us life and peace. And He alone is ultimately the only one who gives our lives real meaning and significance.