A pile of books about William Wilberforce have been published to coincide with this month’s 200th anniversary of parliament passing a bill to outlaw the slave trade.
This came about after a 20-year long campaign which involved many people, but no one was more tireless in his efforts than Wilberforce. He is rightly hailed as a hero. Amazing Grace, at a cinema near you later this month, is a powerful celebration of his life, work and witness. And yet this wonderful man of deep Christian faith had feet of clay. He regularly took drugs which are classified as ‘Class A’ today. He also ruthlessly suppressed the civil rights of the working classes and helped pass laws that led to people being imprisoned without trial and which criminalised campaigns calling for legitimate labour reforms.
William Wilberforce, like all other human heroes, was flawed. ??The writer of Hebrews lists men and women of faith who did great deeds for God. These include Moses the mighty man of God who led the Jews from Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land and met with God atop Sinai – and yet this hero also killed a man and was so rebelliouswhen God called him to leadership, despite witnessing several miraculous signs confirming that God would be with him, that God came very close to killing him!
And then there’s Rahab, a prostitute who betrayed her neighbours by sheltering Jewish spies, and Jephthah, who made a rash promise to God which resulted in him feeling obliged to kill his own much-loved daughter. I wonder who are the saints alive today who will be celebrated by God, the angels and future generations of men and women as heroes and heroines of the faith? And before you quickly write yourself out of the running – why not you? We are often painfully aware of our own weaknesses and sin. As Rob Parsons reminds us in his excellent column (page 17), most of us are quick to realise when we let God down, but slow to recognise when we please God by our words, deeds, attitudes or lifestyle.
Holy scripture celebrates heroes of the faith who were deeply flawed human beings just like you and me. Which means that you and I can, and should, aspire to become heroes or heroines of the faith too.
Meanwhile so called ‘famous’ Christians who speak at popular Bible weeks or are the best known pastors, missionaries or worship leaders right now, suffer from the criticism of others, because they might fail to tick all the supposed ‘heroes of the faith’ criteria their critics have.
Presumably these critics would have left Rahab, Jephthah and maybe even Moses too off the list in Hebrews for their shortcomings! Thankfully we have a forgiving, kind yet just judge who does not treat us as we deserve, but loves us and, if we persevere to the end, promises us a crown of eternal life and the words “well done”.
Finally, a big welcome to Fiona Campbell, the new deputy editor who joins us this month. She was communications officer at The Leprosy Mission and formerly the editor of the New Wine Magazine.