There’s a famous scene in the movie Amadeus, a fictional account of the life and work of Mozart. The court musician, Salieri, is astounded at Mozart’s talent, but is befuddled by Mozart’s inability to live with any sort of decorum, respect, or integrity. When Salieri sees some sheet music that his rival has written, he goes into his room and declares himself an enemy of God. He is frustrated that God would give such talent, such ability, such grace, to a man whose character and behavior deny all that Salieri believed God stood for. It’s a poignant scene where Salieri burns his crucifix and renounces everything he believed in. It seems a little extreme for us—after all, is this just sour grapes and jealousy? It hardly seems worth it. But, this reflects something that each of us faces in life—we all have to question why God gives talent, and what it is we expect from God when we consider those we look up to.
Let me explain: if we invest ourselves in a personal “hero,” even if that hero is God Himself, we are liable to create some expectations. Maybe we turn a blind eye to things that are less than reputable—we all jumped on board the Great Home Run Chase didn’t we? Yet, we knew there was something suspicious going on. So, why did we turn a blind eye? We want to believe that our heroes are above reproach. The situation is quite different with God—there we often set up requirements that God fulfill certain obligations, whether or not God has agreed to these obligations is irrelevant to us. When God fails to do as we think He should, we then have an excuse to abandon Him or to reject Him. Both of these share a common trait, though. It is about expectations and assumptions we live with, and how we are willing to ignore anything that does not fit with our preconceived ideas of what the “hero” should do.
With these sorts of expectations, our heroes can’t help but fail. Herein lays the problem: when we set up a hero, we do not acknowledge a real person. We have created an image of a person that is not consistent with any actual human being (or, with what God has actually promised). This is why I have a personal rule that I live by and encourage in my children: make sure your role model (or hero) is someone you actually know. Then you are forced to deal with the fact that they are not perfect. You see all the little ways in which they fail to climb up on the pedestal you have prepared for them. This is actually a better way for us to learn maturity and to develop as people. Because it turns out that we’re not perfect, either. Learning to mature and persevere in life means learning how to deal with relationships and responsibilities even after we’ve failed. We can’t learn that from a hero who has never done anything wrong (or at least that we acknowledge has done wrong). Let us become the sort of people who are comfortable saying as the apostle Paul did: I urge you then, be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:16). We wouldn’t say that because we believe we do no wrong, but we encourage someone to look to us so they can learn how to press on in the midst of difficulties. Maybe Salieri could have understood that God never promised to reward only the best people with the best gifts. Maybe we could have asked that our baseball players embody integrity. We would have had to acknowledge our own failures in that, but it would also keep us from ascending to the heights only to crash back to earth.