There is truth in the statement “Heroes mirror a society.”1 Looking at the past and reviewing the heroic records of a nation give us an idea of the fabric of a culture, of the values esteemed by a civilization. Each nation has in its accounts individuals that have donned the proverbial cape and cowl, fought the battle outnumbered, or stood up to tyranny and through their actions have been elevated to the highly esteemed rank of hero. The hero spectrum is as varied as countries and individuals on this planet. Someone’s villain is another’s hero. These figures can be historical, contemporary, fictitious, or as fictitiously real as circumstances allow them to be. All of them have the ability to inspire a young boy’s dreams or the backyard fantasies of a little girl; many times they provide the necessary inspiration for daily life.
As a child my personal hero was Zorro. My cape was my mother’s old pink sweater, the only one I could use without being executed like the outlaw I was pretending to be. A black paper mask covered my face. My father’s gardening hat and 40-inch wooden ruler wrapped in tinfoil would complete the disguise and veil my identity from those who knew the true me. My black bicycle was my noble steed “Tornado,” and we would ride the endless space of my backyard and neighborhood fighting injustice (embodied mostly by my cousin Robert). I would fight evil, save the day, and rescue the damsel in distress. Zorro was who I wanted to be. Eventually adulthood outgrew my fascination with Johnston McCulley’s character, and my disguise was buried deep in a box in the old garage. Fact outgrew imagination, and reality rattled my dreams. Yet the need for a hero did not disappear.
In Search of a Hero
Zorro was a dusty and happy memory, but the necessity for a being incarnating my hopes never did go away. Real people became my heroes: sport figures, historical figures, my parents. We never seem to lose that central need to look up to someone. Perhaps that is what is behind the fascination that television and movies have with the superhero genre, or the trend of being “real-life superheroes.” Jim Gold, a reporter for msnbc.com, wrote about this interesting phenomenon in his February 14, 2011, piece “Costumed Crusaders Taking It to the Streets.” Gold briefly tells the stories of some people who are actually wearing disguises, fighting crime, helping the homeless or, as he puts it, taking to the streets to fight “their biggest enemy: public apathy.”2 It seems that the desire for a hero never dies, no matter how old we are, no matter how dusty the box in the garage gets.
In every country, during every epoch, characters born in the minds of a Dumas or a Homer immortalize themselves in the mind of that generations—and others to come. Their actions live on perpetually in the tales we tell, in the legends we create, forever written in the stories that we etch on the scrapbook of humanity. Our children bear their names; our cities give them honor; and we live in awe and admiration of their valor, tenacity, bravery, and heroics. A lofty pedestal becomes their dwelling place, and a monument marks their graves.
However, no matter the prowess of their actions, the hero always has a flaw. No matter that we imagine them immortal and almost divine, they have a problem: they always bear the imprint of humanity. They carry the stigma of imperfection. No matter who the hero is, a problem or shortcoming impedes him or her from obtaining perfection. Superman is no longer “super” in the presence of kryptonite; Batman has ethical issues; George Washington has wooden teeth; Tiger Woods has multiple affairs. Perfection is an ever-elusive characteristic of the hero, though we keep on searching. Perhaps it is the logical outcome of a principle espoused by Ellen White regarding immortality (“Adam could not transmit to his posterity that which he did not possess”)3 that finds us trying to bestow perfection upon our heroes. We cannot, however, bestow that which we do not have. Consequently, Achilles will always have a heel, and disappointment looms permanently over the hero like the sword of Damocles.
The Perfect One
Only the perfect being could realize the perfect plan. Only He that is perfect could incarnate perfection in a hero. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10, NKJV). A text worthy of our contemplation.
First, “perfect through sufferings.” Christ needed no perfecting as God or as human being. However, in the context of the epistle, and following the thought process of the author of Hebrews, there was a “perfecting” process to be followed in order to make Him fit for His functions as Savior and high priest. The concept of a process of perfection is rooted in the Old Testament where the high priest needed to “perfect” himself in order to serve in office.4 This notion would be congruent with Paul’s general theme of Christ being our high priest, superior to the earthly ones (Heb. 7:27, 28). This process of perfecting, then, is a procedure that is completed only through sufferings. The sobering thought begins to germinate a sense of awe for the “captain of our salvation.” A picture painted so masterfully by the apostle addresses the perfection obtained only through suffering. Ellen White notes: “Christ’s mission could be fulfilled only through suffering. Before Him was a life of sorrow, hardship, and conflict, and an ignominious death.”5
It was only in this way that we would not question that He was perfectly suited for the task. If He would have walked about this earth surrounded and protected, continually spared from suffering—how could He relate to us? How could He understand the human predicament? How could it be possible for Him to identify with humanity and thus become our interceding high priest? It is indeed only through suffering that Messiah, under the conditions we face, suffering pain, hunger, tiredness, thirst, sorrow, abandonment from friends, to the extreme feeling of God forsaking Him, could become “perfect,” “complete,” and assume His manifold office with no clouds questioning His “suitedness.” This process of “perfecting through sufferings” was the only way the Messiah could become the undisputed Savior for us. His perfection was not an ontological need, but rather a functional necessity.
Second, the author of Hebrews sums it all up with the interesting use of a particular word: “captain.”6 In spite of its sparse use in the New Testament, the term was quite popular in Greek circles. In Hellenistic literature it was often associated with the demigods of the Greek world, heroes such as Hercules. On all four occasions that the term is used in the New Testament, the reference is to Jesus, painting Him in the light of supreme hero, the leader of our faith.7
Therefore it would be fair to assert that the apostle seems to borrow the notion of “hero,” giving it a biblical twist that transforms it beyond the readers’ expectations. This hero in His humanity is not marred by the stigma of imperfection; He does not show signs of frailty or weakness. On the contrary, His life is matchless and His existence perfect. He is paramount to all other “heroes” we can think of. He is not the semigod son of Zeus, but the Son of God, Creator of the universe, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the living manifestation of “God with us.” He does not sit confined to Mount Olympus, but is unsurpassed in His domain, and is not limited by space or time. Thus, the same word the Greeks would apply to Hercules and the town heroes is applied to Jesus Christ, transforming the concept. It shows that the reality of the perfect hero is not a mythological invention of a people’s folklore, but a reality that boggles the mind so much so that for some it is foolishness and for others a stumbling block (see 1 Cor. 1:18, 23). This Achilles does not have a heel.
And Even More
A final mind-boggling aspect of the hero concept is developed in the following section of Hebrews 2. While Jesus is described as the “hero,” His superiority is not far removed from us. In fact, this hero calls me unashamedly “his brother” (Heb. 2:11). He relates in an intimate way to those He seeks to save. His “heroics” inspire, His life empowers (verse 18). It is no wonder, then, that the author of Hebrews can develop this notion of Jesus being a superior hero and superior high priest. He concludes his thoughts by pointing us to Jesus as one who has opened the way, and who is ready to help us in our hour of need, succor us in temptation, and defeat the sin that entangles our life (Heb. 4:14-16). No wonder the epistle concludes with Jesus as the focal point of the Christian race, inviting us to run the race with our eyes fixed on the “Hero” of our salvation (Heb. 12:1, 2). The dream is real and not the figment of some novelist’s imagination. The Emancipator of the human race, the Destroyer of the shackles of death—the Perfect Hero—exists. He considers us family and empowers and inspires those He saves. Indeed, there is no friend, there is no hero, like Jesus.
1 Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent (Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1992), p. 96.
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 533.
4 The Greek term used here in Hebrews also appears in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in texts relating to the perfecting process or consecration that the high priest had to follow in order to make himself fit for his functions as the high priest (Ex. 29:9; Lev. 4:5; 8:33; 16:32). See William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1991), vol. 47a, p. 57.
5 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 129.
6 The term could mean “leader, ruler, prince or originator, founder” and appears four times in the New Testament (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2).
7 “The credo theme of ‘led out of Egypt’ is here transposed into Christological-titular usage and denotes the exalted Jesus as the eschatological leader of the new people of God on its exodus into the doxa of the resurrection” (P. G. Müller, “archegos,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. H. Balz and G. Schneider [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990], vol. 1, p. 163).
Born in Peru, J. Harold Alomía lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and serves eight churches as a pastor in southwestern Wyoming. He is married to Rosa Alvarado and enjoys playing soccer and guitar. This article was published May 26, 2011.