THE sound of former role models falling from pedestals is causing a clatter all too often these days. Society needs role models, but the greater need is to get a better view of man's true, spiritual identity as God's offspring. This won't necessarily keep people we admire from making mistakes, but it will help us respond better when things happen that mar a role model's image.
There's a vast difference between appreciating someone and idolizing him or her. When we idolize someone, we are, in fact, breaking the First Commandment, found in the book of Exodus, where God tells us, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (20:3). Often athletes, singers, actors, authors, and others find themselves elevated to larger-than-life heights. If we have done this to someone, maybe we need to take a closer look at why we are trying to put that person on a pedestal! Do we want to put him in God's place in our lives? Instead, we should be admiring the spiritual qualities he is expressing. When what we love and admire about someone is what he is expressing of his spiritual identity-the identity each and every one of us has-we're in no danger of making an idol out of that person. As we cultivate and appreciate the universality of God's qualities, not only do we begin to express them more in our own lives but we also broaden our ability to see them in those around us. This broader view also dissolves barriers of race, color, religion, or politics and enables us to admire what is truly admirable in a much larger group of "role models."
Perhaps, for example, an athlete displays remarkable skill, consistency, accuracy, and the ability to work well with other people, or a singer's voice transports us into the music of the spheres. The qualities themselves-strength, grace, intelligence, beauty, discipline-are actually expressions of man's spiritual nature, of your and my true identity as children of God made in His image and likeness. They're not anyone's personal possession, but each of us reflects them individually from God. When we forget this, and put a person-even a wonderful person-in God's place, the fall from the pedestal seems almost inevitable. And the crash can cause pain to all concerned. Not only is the altitude hazardous; it also leaves the one put on this platform little space to recognize mistakes and grow by them.
The noblest man to walk this earth, Christ Jesus, never faltered in his recognition of God's allness. When he was called "Good Master," Matthew's Gospel tells us, he replied, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (19:16, 17). Jesus consistently turned thought away from person to God. Because of his faithfulness in fulfilling his role as the Son of God, Jesus is the ultimate role model for us all. But his example has nothing to do with charisma, clothes, or physicality. His words and works put the focus entirely on God, Spirit, and Spirit's perfect expression in man. What we see is Jesus' compassion, wisdom, humility, patience, and obedience to God.
The Bible is filled with men and women who can serve as wonderful role models for us today. And even the lessons they learned in their stumbles along the way can encourage us to persevere. The disciple Peter, for example, certainly blundered badly just before the crucifixion when he denied knowing Jesus three times in one night! Yet he grew in spiritual character and went on after Jesus' ascension to become a healer and to be indispensable in establishing Christianity.
We won't necessarily be asked to do what Peter did, but his example can encourage us to be steadfast in following Christ Jesus' example. In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, urges us to do this. She writes: "Jesus established in the Christian era the precedent for all Christianity, theology, and healing. Christians are under as direct orders now, as they were then, to be Christlike, to possess the Christ-spirit, to follow the Christ-example, and to heal the sick as well as the sinning" (p. 138).
Appreciation, gratitude, acknowledgment of someone's individual expression of man's spiritual identity-these are never wrong. But avoid pedestals. They are hazardous to health and progress!