One day when I was speaking with my friend John Coulombe in his office, thinking about ways we could intentionally mix generations at church, he had a brilliant idea… “Let’s call Louie and see if he will help us!” What I came to realize is that he was calling Louis Zamperini whose biography was documented in the book, Unbroken. The conversation was short mostly because we woke him up from a nap. But in the short conversation my sense was that he was genuinely excited about helping but his schedule was pretty full as this was the early stages of turning Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller into a script.
At some point in the near future I will get a chance to see the movie and I will probably leave inspired by the courage of someone who went through horrific abuse and torture. What do we do with stories like Zamperini’s? What is it about his heroic life that catches our attention and inspires us? The story resonates with our need for an example, a heroic pattern.
James Houston in his book, Mentoring as Discipleship, unpacks the heroic pattern as the chaos of life is met head on by a determined and courageous attitude.
“…the quest to be challenged by something, accept it, and rise above it. For some, this thing is to climb the highest mountains, to sail the oceans single handedly, to create Olympic sports for the disabled, or whatever gives the plain challenge that it is ‘there to be done,’ or ‘to be discovered’ or ‘to be found out.'”
Surely this is inspiring when we hear stories of “average” people who face insurmountable odds and conquer. It’s like so many movie posters, “A testament to the power of the human spirit!!!” Yet, if we were honest we would readily admit that while we love stories like this, we also recognize that our lives are less than consistently heroic.
This comes out clearly in Hillebrand’s book. Despite the fact that Zamperelli was unbroken by “the Bird’s” torturous methods, his ability to forgive was much more difficult to stand up under. Yet, when his life was changed as a result of a Billy Graham Crusade, he forgave his captors, beautifully captured in Hillebrand’s words,
“At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.”
In Acts 5, Peter speaks to the High Jewish Council…
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”(ESV)
The word for “Leader” is sometimes translated as “Prince” or “Captain”. It’s the same word used in Hebrews 12:2 translated as “Author”. Interestingly enough, the same Greek word archegon was used in ancient Greek mythology to describe Hercules as being the champion and trailblazer. Archegon really means, hero!
What Peter is saying is that Jesus is our Hero. What’s true of heroes?
1.) They are committed to some greater good
2.) The greater good is often at the cost of their own quick happiness
3.) It can include sacrificing their own lives so that what happens to them should happen to you.
4.) We live our lives through heroes. In some way, the life we live is somehow through them in that their failure is our failure, their success is our success.
Jesus is the supreme archegos as the heroic has been fully revealed in Christ. The fact that I inconsistently face difficulties in life won’t crush me if I know that there was One who actually was broken for me. My ability to be “unbroken” in life is not because of my fortitude or inner strength. If that’s the case, I will always disappoint myself because my ability to be “my own hero” is severely limited. The vision of the Hero is met fully in Christ, who gave Himself for me. His death is somehow my death and His life is somehow my life. In that way can enter into the heroic only because we know history’s true Hero.