I need your help. Think about your favorite book characters. What makes them your favorites? Do they share a common trait, talent, or temperament? Do all your favorite characters herd sheep or make origami? Do they all come from the deep south or from the wilds of the Alaskan wilderness? Do you favor the blonde hair, blue eyes, and golden tan of the stereotypical surfer? Maybe you prefer auburn hair and green eyes?
If you’re like me, your favorite characters are probably not chosen because of any of the criteria above. Instead, you choose your favorite characters based on, well, their character. Maybe you choose your favorites because they are shining examples of what a believer should be. They have unshakeable faith in the midst of challenging circumstances. They choose the right path, even when tempted toward the wrong one. They are champions of the faith, and you can’t help applauding their ability to live God’s way on every page.
Maybe these are the characters you are drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I am not. I actually find them a little discouraging. We all know those believers in real life who seem to have it all together. In our heads we know they have to mess up sometimes, but we never see it. Everything they say and do is the perfect extension of their faith. I’m happy for them. Really I am. I’m glad they have it all together. But that’s not my life.
I mess up all the time. I’m not proud of it. I don’t want it to be that way, but I don’t have it all together. Being around the people who do or who present the public picture of perfection only serves to highlight how far I am from where I should be. Why can’t I seem to get it together like they have? I love God. I have faith. I want to be the person He wants me to be. So, what’s the problem? It can be discouraging in real life, and I’m not drawn to it in the characters I love either.
I want to read about characters I relate to. I want to be encouraged through reading about God using someone who gets as much wrong as they get right. I want to see God using the willing person, even if the willing person is sometimes guilty of rushing ahead of God or being hesitant to move at all. I want to see God redeem a sinful past or present when the character has repented of their sin. I want to see God working in the life of a character who sometimes struggles with their faith when the going gets tough. I can relate to these people, and I find it encouraging. Their faults seal them in my reader’s heart.
But don’t I want to read about people who exemplify the same wholesomeness and holiness as the heroes of faith from scripture? Yes, I do. That’s why I’m drawn to the flawed character. I love the one who struggles with too much ego and impulsiveness only to be tempered through trials like Peter. My heart aches for the one who has to deal with painful, guilt inducing consequences of previous sin and still keep moving forward in their faith like Paul. And as mad as his actions make me, I can’t help finding encouragement in the fact that a man who would sleep with another man’s wife, connive to cover up his sin, and then arrange to have her husband killed when he’s too honorable to comply is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart. David became one of the most adored kings of Israel, even though he acted despicably during the whole Bathsheba incident. And looking past their failures, you can find why he and the others are heroes of the faith despite their imperfections.
When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David was heartbroken. Psalm 51 describes the depth of pain he felt over his sin and how intense his desire was to be purged of that sin and reconciled with God. When Peter’s eyes were opened to the way he betrayed Jesus in denying Him, Peter was distraught. He wept over his sin. He longed to be restored. Paul didn’t hide from his past sins. In fact, he claimed them as an example to others. He listed his spiritual pedigree that should have set him apart as holier than thou, but reminded his readers that those things were not of God at all. They were against God and worthless in respect to the real relationship with God that he came to have.
These are the reasons such broken failures are faithful heroes. Their desires for godliness were strong even when their flesh was weak. These heroes didn’t have it all together, but they had faith. They had repentant hearts, and they desired to move past their failures and let God use them. God honored that desire in their lives. And since He is the same God today that He was then, I find encouragement in their stories knowing He will do the same in my life. That’s the kind of character I love, and that’s the kind of character I want to be.
By the Book: Which true stories of the faith do you find most encouraging? If someone wrote a book about your life, what kind of character would you be?