Be Careful with Role Models

Growing up, my idol was Don Mattingly, or “Donnie Baseball.” He was a line drive hitting, Gold Glove first baseman for the New York Yankees. Towards the end of his shortened career, his back started giving him real trouble. The Yankees had Kevin Maas who looked like he would be the next great Yankee first baseman after Mattingly. Maas didn’t last and the Yankees have had a number of folks on the corner since Mattingly’s days, but Maas was the first guy that made me ask, “Is my hero everything he should be?” What caught my attention was something I read on Maas’ baseball card. See, Maas was a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. When considering Mattingly, I had never thought about his education. That made me think about my role models in a far broader scope that I had previously. It wasn’t just enough that they were good at whatever it was they were best known for.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. ( Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”  – 2 Samuel 11:2-5, ESV

David is often used within the Church, and especially among men’s ministries, as a role model. After all, he is described as a “man after God’s own heart.” Who called David this? Why God did. So how can a man who committed adultery (and then later plotted murder and then even later, give his son, Solomon, a list of folks to take out) be called this by God? Well, it was because David loved God and God was first in his life. David was devoted to God. But David was flawed, just as we all are. The great thing about God is He can see past our flaws and imperfections and love us and accept us through His Son, Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t make David a good role model for us. His faith and devotion is a model for us. But his behavior as a husband and father is not.

And it’s not just David. We often talk about how wise Solomon was. But I was having a similar conversation via email with one of my accountability partners. His wife was having a hard time with Song of Songs/Song of Solomon knowing that Solomon wasn’t a single woman kind of guy. Nope, Solomon wasn’t. But Song of Solomon is a love story we should all read. It gives us insight into the type of deep and abiding love which God has for us. It shows us that He can look past the flaws and imperfections others pick at. That book of Scripture also reveals a lot about the type of affection and devotion a husband and wife should share. But the book is not the author. Solomon is a terrible role model.

Let’s face it: only God is perfect. Every other role model will let us down. Every other role model will make mistakes. We must recognize that and not get so caught up in hero worship that we fail to appreciate that only God will never let us down. And certainly we must never get so consumed with our role models that we are willing to excuse their mistakes and faults. We see this type of behavior all the time and the role models aren’t relegated to just one category. We see hero worship in politicians, scientists, doctors, athletes, singers, actors, and even in some theologians. Only God is deserving of this type of unparalleled devotion. Only He can live up to it.

This isn’t to say we should do away with folks to look up to. Not at all. Those kinds of folks encourage us to strive to be better. Tom Seaver’s example made me want to be a better pitcher and Shep Messing’s a better goalkeeper. But we need to remember to limit our appreciation for them to those areas of prowess worthy of that appreciation. And we shouldn’t use that prowess in a certain field to cloud our judgment about them overall. Appreciate what they do well (which does not conflict with God) but keep the whole person in mind. Learn from those role models but don’t strive to be like them so blindly. As adults, this is a lesson we certainly need to pass on to our children. Only God is good enough for unconditional appreciation and worship. So let’s reserve it only for Him.

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