It must be hard to be a hero. Maybe we ask too much of them. Just the other day I was reading about one in particular.
He was a leader at the height of his glory. Saw a woman one day. Desired her. Did the wrong thing. Denied it. Got caught. Suffered public and private embarrassment. Was faced with losing his lofty position. Suffered tremendous consequences.
Sound familiar? It could be Bill Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, or even King David – the Old Testament author of so many beautiful psalms. Or for a more parochial example, Eugene Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons on the eve of our city’s only Super Bowl.
How could they be so stupid, we ask? How could they risk so much for such a momentary fleeting indulgence? We feel betrayed, angry, depressed, lose respect for them and interest in the other things they stand for that once meant so much to us.
But I am partly to blame for the severity of these downfalls. Perhaps you are too.
I get caught up the fervor. I am at first attracted to these people for their brilliant professional skills. I expect them to be brilliant in all areas of their lives. But, alas, they are only men. They screw up just like me, and maybe even you. But because they are who they are, their mistakes are magnified to Herculean proportions. I immediately pass a harsh judgment on them.
I try to remember the lesson of the married woman in the Biblical story who was caught in an adulterous situation. She was hauled before a huge crowd in her town. The crowd wanted Jesus to confirm the traditional Jewish law and demanded that he order an immediate death sentence. Turning the mirror back on the crowd, he said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Then I think about an even harder challenge: forgiveness. Jesus predicted one of his apostles would betray him to the soldiers, resulting in his crucifixion. He knew it would be Judas Iscariot and possibly knew it the moment he asked Judas to join his band of 12. Yet Jesus showed up at the Last Supper anyway. Perhaps he even forgave Judas before the betrayal had taken place.
Then I’m faced with so many questions. Should we have known that our presidents would not stand up to moral scrutiny? Is the very pedestal we thrust these men on too high for mere mortals? Is the international adulation and heavy responsibility we heap on their shoulders too heavy for their souls? Does the intensity of our need to look up to them squeeze out the darkness that otherwise lurks in the corners of their minds? In their most private moments, are they shamed by their realization that they are, after all, only men, that while capable of great good, also succumb to temptation?
Perhaps we should reverse the cycle. Maybe we should forgive these heroes before their betrayal. Next time a leader takes a turn at the top, we could expect mistakes. When our sports icons are preparing for the big game, we could wager which one will be weak at the worst moment.
The rise and fall of men, just like civilizations, is a consistent theme in our history and our literature. Why not anticipate it? Our disappointment and sense of betrayal will be lessened. Our judgment will be less harsh. And if we don’t thrust such undue pressure on our heroes, maybe they will perform better in the roles they have been selected to play.