Saints or Sinners? (Neither and Both)

Recently, while reading Guy Rogers’ “Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness”, I was struck by the contemporary relevance of the following quote:

“Historical ‘greatness’ itself is often a far more ambiguous and subjective concept than is usually appreciated, and that many great historical figures have made mistakes and caused great suffering without thereby becoming monsters. Men and women with great abilities often have possessed correspondingly great flaws and they have made terrible mistakes because, in the end, the great, just like the rest of us, finally are human beings. We must learn to live with the ambiguity of the great. If we are able to live with the ambiguity of the great, perhaps we may live better with our own.”

One of the weaknesses of modern Christianity is a tendency to idolize those who succeed in the ministry. Lead a large church, write a best-seller, or sing a hit song and you are almost assured a place on your own pedestal. This hero-worship is a disturbing trend.

The other extreme is a cynicism toward anyone who happens to get more recognition than we think is appropriate. If a pastor, teacher, singer, or writer outshines us (or our personal favorites), there must be something wrong with their theology, methods, or personal life.

Both of these are disconcerting. The first leaves us vulnerable to disappointment at the sudden revelation of our hero’s humanity. The second causes us to be unduly critical of those we disagree with. Either way, we have allowed our perception to distract us from what is of infinitely more importance: Reality.

I am aware of the principle “honor to whom honor is due.” On the other hand, I’m not denying anyone the right to question or even criticize what they believe to be fundamentally wrong. I do reject the notion that “great” men and women must be either saints or sinners. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. They are neither, and both.


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