One of the things I enjoy about reading the Bible is how real the characters are. With the exception of Daniel and Jesus, we read stories of men and women who were seriously flawed but were used by God to bring about his will for humanity.
Moses had anger issues. Jacob was a conniver and a dad who played favorites among his children. Joseph flaunted his favored position over his brothers. David was an adulterer and tried to hide his sin by committing murder. Elijah won a great victory on Mount Carmel and then experienced depression and withdrawal from society. Peter, oh how I really appreciate Peter, would open his mouth and say the dumbest things. Saul, who became Paul, persecuted the church before he was converted. These are some of the better known stories, look at any Bible character and you will see greatness and folly juxtaposed.
Several responses come to mind when I consider the presentation of these flawed characters.
- The flaws support the veracity of these stories. They seem to be true accounts with no varnish or cleanup, they have the ring of truth. Why do I suppose that the flaws point to the truth? It is because when I look at myself and the people around me, we are all a similar mixture of greatness and folly in differing proportions. These characters seem real because we can point to episodes in our own lives or those of the people we know where the same flaws have been displayed (OK, so I don’t personally know any murderers, but I have known some adulterers). Like Peter, I can be praising God in one breath and then saying something incredibly stupid in the next. I can catch the wave of elation as I see God work in someone’s life and then be overwhelmed by the ever presence of evil in the world.
- I am encouraged by the admission that my forebears in the faith were all flawed. The fact that they were flawed did not nullify their usefulness to God, nor did it diminish God’s reciprocation of their love. Certainly, their final standing with God is dependent upon repentance and response in faith to God, just as it is with all believers through the ages. But I am comforted by the fact that moral failure was not the means of disqualifying them from receiving grace. In fact, in some cases, failure was the means God used to move the one who failed into deeper relationship. Think how Peter must have felt while having breakfast with Jesus on the shore after the resurrection. Bitterly aware of his failure, Peter discovers forgiveness and purpose for his life moving forward.
- Like all good stories, the struggles of the characters force me to take a hard look at my own failures. The fact that these stories are true makes them even more poignant. These stories act as a mirror when we read them and they reflect back to us the areas in which we struggle to live in love and truth. Who can read the story of Jacob and not feel ashamed of his own attempts at inappropriate manipulation of his circumstances?
We are at the same time deeply flawed and deeply loved. Sometimes these are hard to reconcile, but both remain true. The good news is that we can make progress toward being less flawed, even in this life as Jesus brings cleansing and growth.
It may be slow progress, but any progress is a win.