What Does Heroism Look Like?

When I was a child in the 1960s, I used to faithfully watch Underdog. He and/or his girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebred, would always be in peril from some nefarious villain like Simon Bar Sinister, Riff Raff, or Overcat. Each story had four parts, but they showed only two parts in a half-hour program, interspersed with a Tennessee Tuxedo or Klondike Kat cartoon, keeping you in suspense until the next program. Underdog always saved the day and was my first hero. I also discovered Superman, who soon became as heroic a figure to me as Underdog.

When I was nine years old, one of my brothers went to Vietnam for a year. When he left our house, I told him, “Don’t let them shoot you!” (He survived his year there!) Around that time, I heard about a man who had jumped into a river to save someone; I didn’t know his name, but he became a real-life hero to me. I also became familiar with the stories in the Bible of Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace, along with Daniel in the lions’ den. I was in awe of the courage of all six of these men, and I wondered if I could ever be as brave as them.

In the past several years, the word “hero” has been very loosely applied to various people. This has motivated me to think about heroism again. I recently looked up the definition in various sources, and there seem to be two widely agreed-upon, overriding characteristics of a hero: nobility, by which is usually meant high moral character, and courage.

Keeping those two characteristics in mind, let’s evaluate the characters and people I’ve mentioned so far. Both Underdog and Superman are heroes because they are courageous in saving others from harm. My brother was a hero because he flew a helicopter for his country, ferrying other men and supplies from one place to another while sometimes being shot at. The man who jumped in the river is a hero because he saved someone’s life at risk to his own. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are heroes because they took a stand for the Lord even though they knew that they might lose their lives in the process; they displayed both courage and very high moral character.

Now let’s look at a couple other examples of people who have been called heroes. In 2014, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male U.S. athlete in the four major pro sports (NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB) to come out as gay. He was widely lauded and applauded as a hero at the time. I understand why some think that his revelation was courageous, but it doesn’t meet the other standard of heroism, which is having high moral character. How about another, very current example: the 50+ Democratic state lawmakers from Texas who fled to Washington D.C. in order to deny Republicans a quorum in an effort to block what they consider restrictive voting measures from being passed in their state. They have been widely mocked for several things; I’ll mention a couple. First, some of them have shown photos of their underwear drying in their bathrooms; second, they have requested care packages. Apparently, their high salaries aren’t high enough for them to pay for doing their laundry or buying things like Dr. Pepper, hair spray, and salsa. On a much more serious note, they weren’t wearing masks on their private jet, and at least six have since tested positive for COVID-19. I could write much more about their folly, but let’s get back to the main point of this post: are these lawmakers “heroes?” Are they courageous? Are they displaying high moral character? Some on the left think so, but I think to anyone who’s not blinded by their political ideology, the answer is obvious.

In contrast to these examples of non-heroes, in John 15:13, we read, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” The ultimate expression of this is the Lord Jesus, Who died for us. In Luke 21:16, we read, “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.” In Matthew 24:9, Jesus tells us, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Church history is full of examples of martyrs, particularly in the 20th century; you can read more about them and how we should pray for them here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/03/10/how-should-we-pray-for-persecuted-christians/.

The ultimate kind of heroism is risking, and even sacrificing, one’s life for another, whether that be another person or the Lord Himself. There are many other kinds, and examples, of heroism that people may not have thought of as such: how about parents who choose to give of themselves on a daily basis, sacrificing at least some of their own needs and desires until later in life? How about a student who defends another student who’s being made fun of, or worse? How about someone who stops to change a tire for someone else? All of these require courage and moral character. I’m sure you can think of many others.

May we be heroes in “ordinary” ways, and may all of us who claim the name of Christ be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, if need be.

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