Christian Counseling: Do We Need Heroes?

For Christians, Jesus is our hero. Do we need another? Theoretically no because He was and is perfect. He is the prime example of a hero—despite having a choice to save Himself, He willingly gave up His heavenly position, took the lower form of a human and accepted undeserved ill treatment and a massively painful death in order to rescue us, who could not save ourselves, from being eternally separated from our Creator. As a Hero, Jesus displayed courage, strong conviction, and righteousness, took on the villain (Satan, evil), was wounded, and achieved immortality. He’s “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” He is our Super Man; He is the God of all gods. I envy those who saw Him, heard Him and had the great benefit of witnessing the hundreds of other stories not recorded for posterity and who knew fine details about His personality that could only be known through direct observation.

Today, we have His story in written form and the Spirit who can lead us to the truth, to Him, but is that enough? Our five senses cannot grasp Him. Like those in Old Testament times, they wanted a king, a live person to lead, a warrior, a hero, one of their own—a human. God, the King, was not enough for them, despite God’s warning that it would not go well if He gave them a human king. Yet, we all learn through the direct modeling of others. Paul asked Christians to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16). In honesty, we all would rather have a live person to whom we can look up. One day we will.

There is a psychological concept that helps us understand the desire for a live person rather than just a story requiring faith and a representation living in the mind. We want and in some ways need to be able to observe the direct action of others with whom we can more easily identify and, more importantly, easily introject (internalize the qualities of another that aid in self-formation). This is exemplified by the average three-year-old child who mimics the attitudes, words and behaviors of those around him or her. These young children are trying on new behaviors that are becoming a part of who they are. It is a necessary and unavoidable part of human personality development.

Yet, we can reason the other side of the fence. Having heroes and heroines can put us at risk for grave disappointment and idol worship, especially for the young and undiscerning. Madame Suzanne Necker, a Swiss-born writer said, "Worship your heroes from afar; contact withers them." When fantasy meets reality we are often in for a bit of surprise. This is what normally occurs when we really get to know one whom we have placed on a pedestal. In psychology, those on a pedestal are understood to be the result of a positive transference. A positive transference occurs when a person unknowingly gathers his or her good feelings, heavenly thoughts and immutable beliefs from a previous relationship and attributes them to another person, often undeservedly and without proper evaluation of the latter. The more time we spend with them, we more we are apt to see their sin nature and the more likely they will fall from their near godlike status. Without the benefit of ignorance and fantasy, the fate of heroes is that of Humpty Dumpty, who fell from a wall, broke into pieces and couldn’t be put back together again.

Should we title and honor any human as being a hero or should we reserve this special place for Jesus only? Each needs to decide for himself or herself. In my opinion, I don’t think God is saying we should avoid looking for or having human heroes, but that we should be cautious about the human tendency and temptation to allow these men and women to become a substitute for a rightly jealous God.

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