Thursday, 11 October 2012

When our heroes let us down

It's been a week of fallen heroes.
Each new day has brought new allegations of abuse of under-age children involving the late Sir Jimmy Savile.
The Metropolitan Police are now investigating 120 separate lines of enquiry with a possible 30 victims. The public outcry led Savile's family to remove and dispose of the headstone at his grave this week and the Prime Minister has suggested that he might lose his knighthood. While the allegations are not proven, the sheer number of people coming forward has led most commentators to assume there is some truth to them.
Until his death last year, Savile was one of Britain's most established showbusiness figures and a prolific charity fund-raiser.The country's first pop disc jockey, he was also a seasoned television presenter, the iconic Mr Fixit, a marathon runner, Mensa member, wrestler and fund-raiser.
But the allegations that have emerged in recent weeks have eclipsed any of the good he did in life, at least in the mind of the public. The trustees of the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust have even said they are considering whether to change its name.
It seems that a British hero has fallen.
And then on Thursday, the US Anti-Doping Agency's long-awaited report into allegations surrounding 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, was published.
It was unequivocal, describing the performance-enhancing methods he and his team-mates used 'the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen'.
The report labelled Armstrong a 'serial cheat' who not only used drugs himself, but also coerced younger riders to do the same.
While Armstrong denies the allegations, he has said he will not contest them. This is perhaps because the evidence in the 1,000 page report is overwhelming,  including as it does, testimony from eleven of Armstrong's former team-mates who apparently go into great detail about the doping regime he employed.
It seems that an American hero has fallen.
These two examples of fallen heroes remind us once again of the dodgy ground we stand on when we put our hope in sinful men and women.
Apart from the sickening nature of the abuse Savile has been accused of, and the blatent cheating that Armstrong is accused of, it  strikes me that we tend to have one of two reactions to the heroes we look up to, each of which has a common root.
We either idolise our heroes or we become disillusioned with them.
Part of the reason for the strong reaction there has been this week, is because both men had become icons in their respective realms: Savile was a media and charity icon, Armstong was a sporting icon. As a result, many of those who idolised them have been terribly disillusioned by what has emerged.
And the reason for that is because both idolisation and disillusionment have the same rotten root: hope in men.
We put our heroes on pedestals because we think they are gods and cannot disappoint us. We tear them down because we thought they were gods and they did disappoint us.
But the root of both is the same: trust in men.
No wonder then that the psalmist says:
'It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.'
(Ps 118:8-9)
In our celebrity-obsessed culture it's so easy to trust in the 'princes' of today.
And similarly, as Christians, it is so easy to put our hope in high profile celebrity preachers or teachers, or perhaps to a lesser degree, in local church leaders, elders or pastors.
But here's the brutal reality the psalmist reminds us of: all our heroes will let us down.
Both idolisation and disillusionment are sinful, because they reveal that we have been pinning our hopes on men rather than God.
How then should we respond when our heroes fall?

Firstly, we should turn in repentance to God, asking for his forgiveness for putting our hopes in sinful men or women, and asking for his grace to help us trust in him alone.

And secondly, we should remember again that there is only one man worth worshipping and only one hero who will never disillusion or disappoint us.

Fallen heroes should cause us to turn in renewed worship, commitment and allegiance to our resurrected hero: to Jesus. Because he will never let us down.