One of the most iconic songs to come out the 80’s, was Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life
We need a hero. That should go without saying. The world we live in is a mess. War. Terrorism. Murder. Microagressions. Racism. Bias.
When we live in a world where there’s a battle over whether #blacklivesmatter or #policelivesmatter is more important or necessary (by the way, both are!), you know you have problems. But what kind of hero do we need?
That all depends on our predicament.
Some might say we simply need a good example to follow. That we have it within our own capability to come up with the solution to the problems of this life. The British poet W.H. Auden living in New York in the 1930’s-40’s recounts that he left his Christian upbringing and was a secular humanist; basically believing that man could be educated and put into a better environment in order to make the the world a better place. He held this view until one day when he went into a movie house in 1939. He went in to watch a German movie reel on the invasion of Poland. He was frightened when the people in the audience got wrapped up into the movie and started to yell “Kill them” whenever the Poles were portrayed on screen.
He had thought that if we had the right education, right cultural setting, we would move beyond the barbarism and inhumanity of the chaos and calamity around us. But this one incident shattered that. Because of his worldview, he couldn’t admit to himself how bad the world was. Without sin, he couldn’t account for what he had just seen, and was without hope (education, enlightenment, reason had failed). He didn’t have the resources to meet what he saw. He returned to his Christian roots and found hope for what he encountered. (Check out this great write up over at First Things).
On the other side of the world, not in a movie theater, but in a
extermination concentration camp, there was another man observing and suffering the same atrocities that riled up the crowd in the movie theater in New York – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Observing the cruelty and inhumanity around him, he could have thought that the problem is other people. If we could simply get rid of the “other”, the world would be alright (funny how that’s the very same thought that animates all totalitarian regimes and “ethnic cleansing” campaigns). Instead, he reasoned and concluded the following:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)
Auden and Solzhenitsyn were confronted with the fact that the world is the way that it is because we are the way that we are. And having the right upbringing, credentials, education or experiences won’t solve it. We need more than an example (the view of Human ability and the Myth of Human Progress; also called Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism in theological circles).
But neither will it do any good to simply get rid of the problem people, because there is no clean cut separation (the view of Human eradication and “cleansing”; Pride, Arrogance, and Superiority). All of us are both victims and victimizers of our world, environment, and other people.
The picture Paul paints of our predicament is one of human solidarity with the original man – Adam. As Adam went, so did all humanity – his posterity. Our problem is more than the cumulative total of our individual actions and certainly greater than just “them” over there.
We need a hero. And he’s got to be larger than life – at least the life as we now currently know it.
This is Paul’s whole point in Romans 5:12-21. Paul is contrasting two men who represent two humanities: the merely human, and the more human than human.
Just as in Adam all are in sin and under it’s rule and reign, are transgressors of the law of God, and contribute to the problems in the world by thinking of themselves as greater than God the Creator of all, so then many can come into a state of mercy, grace, and renewal in Christ.
Jesus Christ comes to not merely reverse the work and effects of the “first man”, Adam, but He comes as the “last man” or the “second Adam”, to not merely put things back together again, but to make it better than ever before. There is a progressive nature to Christ’s work that doesn’t just repair what is broken, but makes it utterly beautiful instead of miserable.
Jesus Christ lived the life not only we should have lived, but Adam should have as well. And now that He has done it, we don’t have to be only enslaved to sin, even if we still feel it’s effects (death, destruction, and dysfunction). There is a new way to live, by the larger than life hero, Jesus Christ.
How then should we respond?
Faith in Christ, not ourselves. The way of the human race is to trust in our own instincts, abilities, and progress. Christianity cuts that off at it’s root. We don’t have the resources to get ourselves out of our own problems – the same heart that got us into it all won’t get us out of it, at all. But because of Christ’s work in living, dying, and rising again, we don’t have to. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through faith,” (Romans 3:23-24). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us; not ourselves.
Repent of Sin. Our contribution to the misery of the world is still something we deal with. We need to repent of the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do. But we do so not to earn, achieve, or merit God’s favor, but because our fundamental identity has shifted. Repentance could be described as simply “aligning our thoughts, actions, and habits with the new life of Christ He gives us by His Spirit.” It’s not about “dos” and “donts”, but becoming more “who we are” and “who we are meant to be” in Christ.
Work for renewal. Just as repentance is taking on the characteristics of our new identity in Christ (in union with Him), we can and should actively work to make the world around us, in our respective spheres of influence, look and act more and more like the world it will be one day. Jesus is not just doing a work in us – “Taking the evil out the people/[so that] then they’ll be acting right.” (Tupac, Changes) – but through us, to redeem all things to Himself.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)
How can you partner with Him in making your little corner of His world reflect His image, His truth, His beauty, and His goodness?