Most of us have role models, people we greatly respect and even would like to emulate. After watching the Olympics, athletes like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles no doubt gained many thousands of new, ardent admirers. We might have someone at work, a very accomplished veteran, whose abilities and traits we’d like to see in our own lives.
Students often have favorite teachers, people who made learning not just fun, but truly an adventure. “I want to be like her (or him),” is a common reaction when we’re in the presence of an inspirational educator. As a writer, I’ve had a number of authors who in one way or another served as role models as I forged my own journalistic and literary career.
But have you ever considered that perhaps the very best role models are…no longer living? I started pondering this recently after hearing someone on the radio state emphatically, “All of my role models are dead.”
Think about it: How many times have we read sad reports about some supposedly upstanding citizen – an entertainer, athlete, politician, business leader, even a pastor or ministry leader – a revered role model for many, who was exposed for scandalous moral or ethical behavior? What happens when those we place on a pedestal tragically fall from grace, so to speak? We become disheartened, disillusioned, even devastated. How could those we held in such high esteem stoop so low?
So perhaps it’s a good idea for our role models to be from a different place and time. A local pastor for years has led a weekly discussion group called the Dead Theologians Society, in which men and women review the writings of Christian leaders from centuries past. Part of the reasoning is that eternal truth never has an expiration date. But there’s also no danger that sage spiritual minds of the past – like Augustine, Charles H. Spurgeon, St. Francis of Assisi, Andrew Murray, Martin Luther, A.W. Tozer, Teresa of Avila, Oswald Chambers, C.S. Lewis, Corrie ten Boom, John Bunyan, and many others – will become the subject of disgraceful headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper, on the Internet, or the nightly news.
This is one reason Hebrews 11 is such an important chapter in the Bible. Here we find men and women of faith – starting with Abel and continuing with other Old Testament patriarchs like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets. As Hebrews 11:13 states, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
Later the chapter talks about individuals “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised…” (verse 33). But it also points out that others, “were tortured and refused to be released…. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison…stoned; they were sawed in two, hey were put to death by the sword…” (Hebrews 11:35-37). Could we face that and remain true to what we believe?
The chapter concludes by stating, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:39). In other words, they still were looking for the promised Messiah, clinging to the hope of redemption and life everlasting. And they didn’t have a local Christian bookstore, or a handy Internet website to go to for encouragement. All they had was faith, which the first verse of Hebrews 11 declares to be, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
One of the hardest things in life is finishing well, whether it’s pursuing a college education, competing in an athletic event, forging a career, building a healthy marriage and family, or walking with God. It’s too easy, too tempting, to quit or take a detour along the way.
Many of our personal role models have started well. But how will they finish? Will we become disappointed to see them decide it’s not worth finishing their marathon? Will we discover their talk was a lot larger than their walk?