On Flawed Heroes

How should Christians think about flawed figures from history? 

Over recent years, debates have raged regarding various historical figures. How should we think about their legacy? How should we understand the flaws of great men? Should they be canceled? Should criticisms against them be ignored? 

I just finished thinking about the relationship between the parallel accounts of Israel's history in I-II Kings and I-II Chronicles. Whereas the former tends to emphasize the failures of Israel and Judah, the latter tends emphasize the successes of Israel and Judah. Whereas the writer of Samuel/Kings is quite honest about David's sin with Bathsheba and the ensuing consequences, the writer of Chronicles is completely silent about it. The writer of Kings is clearly ambivalent about Solomon, while the writer of Chronicles is quite positive. Kings recounts the history of both the apostate northern kingdom of Israel and the relatively holier southern kingdom of Judah. Chronicles focuses only on the kings of Judah, devoting significant space to the reforms of Josiah and Hezekiah.

The reason for these different points of view is simple: each writer has a different audience and a different purpose. Kings terminates mid-exile and answers the question, "Why has this all happened?" Chronicles ends with the decree of Cyrus and answers the question, "What do we do now that we're back in the land?" 

So here is the question I have mulled over: by overlooking the sin of David and downplaying the failure of Solomon, is the Chronicler whitewashing history? Is he writing hagiography instead of biography? No. The marriage of Kings and Chronicles together in the canon gives us a balanced approach for evaluating imperfect historical characters. 

Samuel-Kings shows their warts and failures. It pulls no punches in describing David’s adultery, Solomon’s idolatry, and Rehoboam’s stupidity. Chronicles, on the other hand, does not apologize for celebrating their wins and praising their faithfulness. Taken together, we see that the Bible neither canonizes nor demonizes imperfect saints. They’re neither chiseled into marble nor pilloried in the stocks. 

Their failures are clearly delineated; their successes are duly noted. A fair analysis is given. Some kings are regarded as “doing evil” on the whole and others as “doing right” on the whole, but neither is an absolute category, but a general description. The good kings had their flaws and the evil kings no doubt had some successes. What matters is their faithfulness to God. 

Divine grace and human depravity run on parallel tracks in history. Both springs feed into a single river. When we read history, we should expect to see man's sin in all its ugliness and we should expect to see God’s grace in all its beauty, often from same perch on the river bank.  

We should not recoil in shock upon discovering the glaring failures of our heroes, nor should we impulsively rule out the possibility of God using flawed sinners. We should expect a sovereign God to paint perfect pictures with imperfect brushes, to draw straight lines with crooked sticks, and to build a beautiful building with warped lumber and rusty hammers. 

Thus, the Bible's historical approach diagonalizes our approaches to history. Scripture's historical account is neither the conservative's glorification of the past nor the progressive's idealization of the future. Rather, it is the theological celebration of the God who works all things according to the counsel of His will in the present. 

To Him be the glory and praise! 


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