You can tell a lot about a time period and a people by their heroes. The Greeks, for example, sported a plethora of gods and goddesses many with their unique virtues and all with their vices. One of their most renowned, Hercules, was known for completing his great labors. He defeated the nine-headed hydra, tracked down and captured the pet stag of Diana, and bound the monster Cerebus, the Guardian of the Underworld. But why did he have to complete the labors? He murdered his children and then was given twelve labors to atone for his actions. We learn this man, son of the god Zeus and daughter of a human, was a hard-worker who made amends for his actions by doing many nearly impossible tasks. He earned his place in heaven among the other gods and shows the self-reliant fortitude of a culture whose ships spanned the seas, whose literature, philosophies and histories shaped much of history, and whose ruins greet us today of a people and of an ideal that is no more.
We learn a lot about another people from history in the records of Israel too. For those whose hearts did not turn aside to other gods, to burn their children as sacrifices to Molech or enter into forbidden unions with the temple prostitutes, we find they had a different kind of hero. David was one, a warrior, a king, and a man after the heart of God. When he committed a great sin we see that he turned to God, he repented and felt terrible for his wickedness (Ps 38, 51, et al). One of David’s greatest weaknesses was his greatest strength, by the unbosoming of his heart in his failings, we see where he derived his strength. The power, the glory, the source of David’s strength and courage was not his own resilience but the invisible God he worshipped. When the armies of the nation of Israel were being openly mocked, David, only a youth, understood the invectives to be railings against God himself and stood against this monster and showed the might of God; David’s might and skill did not slay the giant, the intervention of the God he put his faith in did. David was just a man, but one who demonstrated that there is a God.
This brings me to a shift I have seen in our own culture. Growing up and watching the old Superman’s, I noticed a respectful distance kept in between the heroes. Lois and Superman may have met and flown around the world at night, but it ended on the porch with both clothed and in delight from the time spent in each other’s company. Now it seems Superman may still be a hero while entering into a sacred union with a woman while swearing no promise or commitment to her. She not only consents to it, but upon his departure and the absence of his forwardness, she becomes more forward herself and quickly couples with another man so that she thinks her child from him and not the earlier man. Who can entrust themselves to such perfidious and inconstant hearts in the closest of unions?
It has become the more general view in America that this treatment of physical intimacy is not only prevalent but acceptable. The wedding band is not only passé, but it has become synonymous with a prison shackle; the touch of the gold ring fastens a band of iron around the soul, depresses the heart and limits the freedom and fun of the wearer. Superman rushes in to save the police in a robbery and to help a woman in a car accident, but shows little more than jealousy when he finds another man is living with the mother of his child. This does not stop him from exercising his other virtues, such as eavesdropping on their private conversations and coveting the kisses of a woman now living with another. This culture has swallowed the bitter self-medicating placebo of rushing to help in immediate disaster while disposing the bottle of promise and commitment.
The one counter that comes to mind on my treatment of Superman is Samson, the Jewish Judge, known for his voracious sexual appetite who yet was noted among the great men of faith (Hebrews 11). I wish I could read of his time in prison with his eyes burned out and hear his conversations with God. Surely there in the blackness of his world and in the den of his enemies he would feel the separation from his people and he would acknowledge his sin and again feel the closeness of God. Is that in the Bible? No. I do not see it but speculate based on his standing in Hebrews 11 and of the hearts of other heroes who were broken by God. This society is secularizing daily, elevating the glory of man as Satan elevated Satan. The Israelites differed from the cultures of their times though they were not free from the sin of the world and stumbled into many snares. Those among them who knew God pointed out to us that yes, we are in danger walking on the straight and narrow path and that our own virtues will not free us from the pits along the way, but by crying out in humility and contrition, God will lift us out that we may continue on and guard others from the same gins.