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God's (un)Original Hero

by Reg Grant on July 7, 2006 in Profiles

I checked out Growing Up Isn’t Hard to Do If You Start Out as a Kid to get a fresh perspective. Dr. David Heller asked children between the ages of seven and ten to tell whom they admired most.

I admire Freddy Kreuger because he’s in a lot of movies, and he gets to meet a lot of different people ... at least for a little while.”
Will, age seven

I admire the pilots who fly people all around the world. How do you figure how to get to a place? I still have trouble getting around my school since they built the addition on!”
Lou, age seven

Then there’s eight-year-old Nicholas Berger. His idea of a hero is a little different. Nick’s dad, Jim, worked at Aon, a human resources consulting firm on the one-hundred-and-first floor of World Trade Center Tower Two.

At 8:30 A.M. on Tuesday, September 11, Jim was just a regular guy, in love with his wife, Suzanne, and his three boys—Nicholas, 8, Alex, 6, and Christian, 2. Then a jetliner ripped through the top floors of Tower One. Immediately Jim started ushering his coworkers to the elevators, sending them down to safety. The last anyone saw him, he was headed back for more.

A few minutes later the second plane struck Tower Two. Back home, Suzanne waited beside the phone. “In those initial hours,” she said, “as the ‘safe’ lists were coming out, and his name wasn’t on any of [them], immediately I started to think, ‘Wait a minute, this is Jim Berger. He’s saving people.’” Suzanne waited all that day, through the night, and into the next day with no word.

By Wednesday night she was desperate.

“I ran up to the top of the street,” she said, “and I just knelt in the middle of the road. And I said ‘God, whatever your will is for me, I have accepted it .... But I need to know that Jim is home with you.’”

Then Suzanne looked up and saw a brilliant, shining star shoot across the sky. “At that moment I knew he was home. I knew he was in heaven.”

In her interview with ABCNews.com Suzanne said she waited until Sunday after church to tell her sons.

“I told them that I believed that their father was in heaven,” she said. “And they both just kind of looked up at me, and I expected them to burst into tears.”

But Nicholas had something to say. He named the hill they were standing on “Hero Hill.” The hill, he said, was “big and strong and has its arms wide open”—just like his father.

Jim Berger is a hero because, given the opportunity to save himself, he chose to save others. What caliber of character does it take to produce that kind of courage?

Surely such heroes must be independent folk, men and women of striking originality.

Yet the Gospel of John presents a different kind of hero—one whose deeds and words were unique in human history and yet thoroughly reflective of someone else. Here we discover the world’s most unoriginal hero, Jesus Christ.

People who strive for originality attract attention to themselves.

Not Jesus.

He was—in fact—just the opposite. At the end of His ministry He could say that He had accomplished His task. He had glorified the Father by revealing Him to the world: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do ... I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:4, 6).

Jesus glorified the Father by living a thoroughly unoriginal life. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does .... By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (5:19–20, 30).

Jesus never acted independently of God the Father. He did only what He saw God the Father doing. Nor did Jesus speak unless He “heard” the Father speak first.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (12:49–50).

Later Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). Jesus and the Father aren’t the same person, but while on earth Jesus perfectly “re-presented” His heavenly Father.

In the arts we refer to such perfect representation as mimesis; it means “imitation” in the sense of re-presentation rather than “copying.” It is the antithesis of originality.

C. S. Lewis despised the idea of originality in people. He wrote, “I have wanted to try to expel that quite unchristian worship of the human individual … I mean the pestilent notion … that each of us starts with a treasure called ‘Personality’ locked up inside him and that to expand and express this, to guard it from interference, to be ‘original,’ is the main end of life.”

In another place Lewis wrote, “Our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction, in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours.”

The great Russian director Constantin Stanislavski taught his student actors to immerse themselves in their characters so that their performances would be consistently true to their characters.

Originality in performance often results in an unfortunate mutation of the author’s original design, which in turn leads to a distortion of the character’s purpose in the play. The actor’s goal is to reveal what the author had in mind––to reveal the real character and not a cheap imitation.

If you want to show the real Jesus to the world, then lose your life in Christ’s life. “Whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25). Immerse yourself in Him. Ask His life-giving Spirit to shape you into His likeness. Imitate Him by “re-presenting” Him to the world.

Young Nicholas Berger has a Hero Hill. So do we. It’s called Calvary—a place “big and strong with arms open wide.” There our great Hero, the Lord Jesus Christ, died in our place, then rose from the grave three days later to prove that He really is who He said He is. That’s a hero worth imitating.

The world is watching and listening as we re-present Jesus on the world stage. Live the unoriginal life, a life dependent on God.

Then the world will see a real Hero—they will see Jesus in you.

Reg Grant (ThM, 1981; ThD, 1988) is professor of Pastoral Ministries.  He has starred in numerous dramatic productions including Grace Prodcuts' "In Search of the Heros" series, which has garnered several Emmy awards and numerous Emmy nominations.  Dr. Grant has authored two novels and coauthored two books on preaching and storytelling. He also directs Dallas Seminary's Media Arts program.

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