Our heroes — fictional or nonfictional — inevitably end up shaping our picture of God. Consciously or not we will project what we admire or praise in others onto the supremely admirable and praiseworthy one.
Not everyone watches television, but among those who do, lots and lots of us have followed Jack Bauer’s eight days of escalating terror, conflict, and rescue. There’s something captivating about vicariously experiencing and surviving twenty-four desperate, seemingly hopeless — even if not entirely believable — situations in just one day. Today, season nine begins.
Why We Love Jack
We love Jack for a lot of his qualities — his conviction, integrity, loyalty, courage, selflessness, and more — but chief among them may be his ability to navigate and resolve the most complicated and dangerous circumstances. When the pressure is on, and the outlook bleak, and the nation or world at stake, he always solves the crisis and saves the day.
Yet Jack rarely ever seems to be in control. You never know how he’s going to uncover the plot or disarm the bomb or identify the mole. And there are always well-meaning, but absolutely hapless people in power making everything more difficult. Even when you know everything will be alright in the end, there are a hundred distressed questions of how each hour.
And that’s really what we love about Jack. He’s the emblem of resourcefulness — always able to survey his circumstances, however surprising and dire, and use whatever means available to just narrowly escape and prevail. It gives us the adrenaline of risking everything, and we can still sleep at night because Jack will find a way.
But as exhilarating as these heroics are, it is not a good depiction of how our God saves. Christians, though, can be tempted to think of God in these terms — that God is the ever-present, ever-clever-and-innovative hero who steps in at the last minute and comes up with exactly what to do. So Jesus is the better temple, the better Moses, the better Jonah, and the better Bauer. With all of his power and wisdom, he’s able to survey the situation and make every in-the-moment decision for our good.
A Real Threat to National Security
But picture this scene. The Christ has come, called his disciples, gone to the cross, risen from the grave, and ascended into heaven. He took the throne and established the greatest and surest government this world has ever known. He promised nothing would stop him from having the nations (Matthew 24:14) and no one would prevail upon his church (Matthew 16:18).
Then the worst kind of terror struck this fragile group of followers. Saul and other Jewish leaders conspired to wage an aggressive, brutal war against the believers. They dragged them into the streets, bound them, jailed them, and even killed them (Acts 9:1). Saul — who later became Paul — described his terrorism this way, “You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13).
This was a tragedy for the church — a scary and disturbing crisis. How could this little group survive an attack like this? It made it look like Jesus had left this new people alone and vulnerable. It had to leave those first Christians waiting and wondering if and when he would see what went wrong and step in to save the day.
The God of Before
Well, Jesus does intervene when he confronts and blinds Saul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4). Paul goes on in Galatians 1 to describe the event himself,
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone. (Galatians 1:15–16)
Did you get that? God had set Paul apart before he was born. Before he was raised a Jew. Before he opposed and persecuted the church. Before he had his own brothers and sisters in Christ killed for their faith. Before a sinful work was committed or sinful word expressed or sinful thought conceived, God had chosen and set apart Paul not only to be his own, but to be his special means of bringing others to radical, saving, life-changing faith in the gospel.
Before the terrorist was born, before the persecutor could crawl, before the murderer could say a word, he was God’s, and the plan was set and sure. The script had been written. There were no surprises for God — no quick decisions, no risks, no urgency or anxiety. At every moment of Paul’s mutiny, God was unmoved, abounding in love and justice, and in control. And that sets him apart from the beloved Bauer.
We Want More
So feel free to enjoy Jack’s bravery and brilliance tonight, but remember that resourcefulness is not the safest of virtues. We need more than ingenuity.
Our Redeemer is not an eleventh-hour God. If we’re in Jesus, we don’t need to worry about our lives. God is not limited in any of the ways Jack Bauer is. As the all-knowing, all-powerful, loving writer of world history, he orchestrates all things — good and bad — as part of a masterpiece of his sovereign care. He’s not tossed about by disease, disaster, or our sin. At every hour of every day — however dramatic or uneventful — he’s carrying out the most glorious story ever told, and he’s doing so for your greatest and most lasting good.
So find security, peace, and rest in a Savior that sovereignly chose you and promised to keep and deliver you long before you were ever in danger.