Since my earliest days, my parents have always dragged me to church. I grew up learning all of the Bible stories, even the Veggie Tales versions of them. Seriously, it’s hard not to imagine Jonah as an asparagus who jumped off a pirate ship piloted by a cucumber.
If you’re like me, you’ve known these biblical characters and their stories from birth. You’ve heard about these great men who were chosen to do amazing things for God. We heroically lift them up, making them seem larger than life. We talk as if their faith was superhuman and that’s why God chose them. But when you really look deep into God’s cast of heroes, it’s remarkable that he even looked in their direction.
We don’t really know anything about Abraham before God called him out. While he had some amazing faith moments, he also cowardly told Pharaoh that his wife was really his sister so the Egyptian ruler would have his way with her and not kill him.
Abraham’s grandson was known for tricking others. He cheated his older brother out of his birthright, failed to follow through on his commitments, and made plenty of enemies along the way. Oh, and did I also mention that he played favorites among his multiple wives and his twelve sons? And yet God changed his name to Israel and built a nation from his offspring.
He was Jacob’s son and once slept with his daughter-in-law. Don’t worry, he thought she was just a random prostitute! His offspring only became the biggest tribe in Israel.
This guy was a privileged murderer with a pathological fear of public speaking. But after running away from his responsibilities and his people, God appeared to him in a burning bush and made him their deliverer out of slavery.
He was a great prophet but a terrible father. In fact, Samuel’s sons were such horrible men that the people demanded he appoint a king just so they wouldn’t take over after he died.
He was a man after God’s own heart but he also had multiple wives and still managed to cheat on them with another woman. Oh, and after he got her pregnant, he killed her husband! And then became a critical part of Jesus’ ancestry…
Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab
All women with sordid sexual histories (like incest, adultery, and prostitution) and all mentioned by Matthew as a part of Jesus’ genealogy in a day when even the most respectable women weren’t considered worthy of mention.
David’s son prayed for wisdom, amounted unbelievable wealth, and got drunk on his own success. I don’t know what possesses a man to marry hundreds of women but he did it. Yet, under his leadership, Israel experienced some of its greatest days.
One of Jesus’ closest disciples was also a lowly fisherman who publicly denied him three times while he was being hauled off for crucifixion. But read the book of Acts and you’ll see a guy who spread the Gospel in the face of constant danger and became a central figure in the early Church.
Another one of Jesus’ disciples. He was a tax collector, a profession that pretty much requires selling out your entire community so you can get rich.
He imprisoned, tortured, and killed Christians. His career took a serious left turn when Jesus appeared to him and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He also spread the Gospel across the Roman empire in spite of beatings, abandonment, and even a shipwreck.
Paul’s protégé was fatherless, young, and so nervous that he had persistent stomach issues. He later became one of the key men Paul counted on to raise up the next generation of church leaders.
What about you?
Are you that parent who can’t get it together?
Is your personal life less than perfect?
Is your marriage falling apart?
Do you struggle with crippling anxiety or depression?
Do you feel like a self-serving coward?
Do you have serious regrets in your past?
Let’s take it a step further…
Have you killed someone in the heat of the moment?
Have you been juggling hundreds of women at once?
Have you sold out the ones you love?
Have you scammed your own relatives?
Have you dressed like a prostitute to get your dead husband’s father to impregnate you?
All of these characters would have to check “yes” next to at least one of these questions. And here’s the kicker – you don’t find these details hidden in the footnotes of Scripture or in the back of some long-forgotten commentary. The biblical writers went out of their way to mention their issues. They weren’t trying to turn these people into spiritual superheroes. Rather, they were making the opposite point:
These are the kinds of people God uses.
Broken people. Hurting people. People who would make great headlines on a Jerry Springer episode. He takes a young kid and puts him in leadership over corrupt old men. He takes a prostitute and uses her bloodline to birth Emmanuel. He takes a forgotten fisherman and uses him to lead the Church.
If God would pick any one of them, do you really think he wouldn’t use you?