What Makes a Hero?

by Peter Merrifield

If there is one thing that everybody loves, it is a good hero. Almost all movies will have a hero who we root for and most of the time the movie ends with the hero winning out. Many of us want to be heroes in our families and communities and many will claim individuals such as Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi as our inspirations. But what makes a hero? Not every great person in history can be called a hero, in fact there are several examples of people I can think who achieved remarkable things, but I would not call heroes.

So, what do heroes do? I would say that heroes make the world a better place. Any example of a hero from pop culture be it Superman, Captain America or the Seven Samurai all have this goal in mind. There is a problem, some form of injustice that needs to be fought, and all these characters fight it for no real reward beyond the fact that they are heroes and that is what heroes do.

For example, in the film, Seven Samurai arguably (definitely) the greatest film in the history of Japanese cinema the only reward the Samurai get is a bowl of rice each day from the villagers they are protecting. The fight is long and hard, but the alternative is that the villagers will have their crops raided and will eventually starve. These Samurai of varying skill all have one goal in mind. Defending the village from the bandits and ensuring justice.

But the pursuit of justice is I would argue not enough in of itself to ensure a person’s status as a hero. There must be a valid means of achieving and ensuring the justice for one does not impede on others. To give an example, let us compare the two main characters from one of my favourite video game series, Metal Gear Solid. The two characters are of course Solid Snake and Big Boss.

Big Boss is mainly motivated to create a world where soldiers are not just used as tools by governments and can fight for the causes, they truly believe in. However, through his experiences Big Boss becomes jaded and cynical, eventually aiming to build a world of perpetual warfare for soldiers to have that opportunity as then there will always be need for mercenaries.  Big Boss started out with the noblest of intentions but through grief and rage and the misguided nature of his goals he ends up becoming the very tyrant he wished to rid the world of.  Big Boss is by the end of the series at least not a hero.

Solid Snake on the other hand wishes to eradicate the world of metal gear technology as he is aware of how dangerous it is and the threat it poses to the world. He is also opposed to Big Boss as his worldview he sees as an insane endeavour, and in spite of his respect for Big Boss he completes his mission to eradicate him and his vision due to the threat they pose to the world and although he is a careers soldier and the battlefield calls him he ends his life content in the new peaceful world he has created. Solid Snake therefore is a hero as despite his own life being arguably better if he had accepted Big Boss’ vision he sees the bigger picture and therefore works to create a better world for everybody. Big Boss wanted justice for soldiers, Solid Snake created greater justice for everybody.

So with all of that in mind we have a list now of what makes a hero

Defending the innocent and vulnerable

A vision to create a better world for all, not just for your group at the expense of others.

Not doing so for any reward, doing so because it is the right thing to do.

So, with that in mind we can now ask does the bible back this up? Well, when it comes to defending the innocent and vulnerable we have Proverbs 31: 8-9  ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Well that seems a conclusive answer if you ask me’.

As for the vision to create a better world we have to ‘learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow’  (Isaiah 1:17) like the last but with the express instruction of making life better for all not just those like you. And finally claiming no reward or at least expecting no reward. You have ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7) – that passage is used most often regarding money but a giver, can be a giver of anything. Or how about ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35) or perhaps most relevantly ‘be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:1). We do not do it for recognition or reward but because it is what God calls us to do.

However there is one thing we must avoid constantly and guard our hearts against, hating the oppressor. ‘Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found’ (Psalm 37:8-9). Or as Yoda puts it “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering” If we fight for hatred of the oppressor, we in turn become the oppressor look at Joseph Stalin or Maximilien Robespierre became if you need further proof. Remember the words of Jesus ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’  Matthew 5:44.

Peter is a fourth year at Oxford Brookes studying History. 

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[image description: Close up of Peter smiling wearing a hat made of straw].