Lots of Christians have a habit of “stained glassing” Bible characters. Sometimes it seems like pretty much anyone other than Jezebel and Judas Iscariot will get a free pass and find their actions vindicated by believers.
Why does this happen? Perhaps it is the result of Sunday School training that can sometimes turn the biblical narrative into myth-like stories with morales based primarily on character behaviour. Perhaps it comes from too easily assuming that faith in God is a binary reality whereby any faith in an individual equates to full faithfulness, rather than recognising that God patiently works with people who are in the process of learning to trust Him rather than themselves. Perhaps we are just nice people who assume almost everyone in the Bible is a nice person too (i.e. you have to be overtly evil to be anything other than laudable). Perhaps it comes from forgetting that the primary character to focus on in the Bible is God, rather than the people, so that the people become models for our actions where perhaps they shouldn’t.
So where does this happen in the canon? There are countless examples, but let me prod our thoughts with a few characters that tend to get “stain glassed.”
The Patriarchs – Abraham responds to a call from God, but when does he really trust God’s promise? Sure, he moves with his family a long distance, but it is only after he separates from his family that God follows up with him. Then it is another while before Abraham seems to finally trust God’s promise about his seed. So between his initial call and his being declared righteous by faith there is the bizarre incident with giving his wife away in Egypt. Abraham is on a journey, a faith journey. And if we try to sanctify his decisions and affirm it all, then we may upset the wives in our congregation, and misrepresent the text.
Other OT Characters – Ruth was amazingly godly, but was Naomi acting by faith when she setup a very compromised situation? Do we want to affirm everything about Mordecai and Esther? Heroic and courageous? Certainly. But deeply faithful? Worth pondering. Nehemiah always gets lauded as the ultimate leader, but what legacy did he leave in respect to the hearts of the people, as well as the building project? Was Jonah just reluctant, or was there a heart issue with him, in contrast to the character of the God he ended up somewhat representing?
Disciples – This is an interesting category. Perhaps it is an anti-category. That is, often I hear the disciples being treated like dunces when we treat them as if they should have fully grasped the content of all four gospels before the gospels were even written!
The Bible is full of real people with real issues and real messy mixed up faith responses, and for that we should be profoundly thankful.