Those of us raised on flannelgraph Christian education recall the essence of most Bible lessons we learned as kids: The Bible character — unless a bad-guy pagan like Goliath or Herod — was good and faithful, and received God’s blessing. Therefore, we should do the same.
Turns out that, after some honest reading of the fuller texts, a lot of these biblical heroes were of less sterling character than we were led to believe.
Last Sunday, I had the privilege of being guest teacher for a delightful Sunday school class of adults at Vineville Baptist Church in Macon, Ga. Like so many others around the world using the Uniform Series, we examined the conflicting, deceit-based relationship between Jacob and his uncle/father-in-law Laban, as well as Jacob’s marriages to Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel.
I mentioned that Jacob was a scoundrel, before realizing that no flannelgraph teacher of mine ever used that term for a Patriarch. This need to defend the character of Bible characters has apparently ended with my generation, however.
Last week I overheard my teenage daughter discussing Jesus and his Disciples with a friend.
“John was the conceited one,” my daughter said. “He referred to himself as ‘the one whom Jesus loved.'”
Well, I loved her honesty. There was no sense of being an image-protecting media handler for the disciple. What sounded like conceit, she called conceit.
Now why would I celebrate such honesty? Might such references to biblical personalities lessen faith?
No, such honesty teaches us the greater lesson that, throughout history, the hand of God has been at work through frail, faulty people, not superheroes.
The Bible is full of characters who were brave and fearful, courageous and cowardly, honest and deceiving, bold and weak, believing and unbelieving, firm and failing … you know, characters like us.