“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, …from weakness were made strong …” Hebrews 11:32-34
Some time ago I picked up a 100-year-old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poems entitled “Barrack Room Ballads.” The book was water damaged, but sturdy enough, so I decided to save it from oblivion on the old dusty, heavily ladened shelves of a used book store. That’s the problem with bibliophiles, there’s always an excuse.
I truly did intend to read it, as I’ve always appreciated poetry, but it took me some time to warm up to poems and prose with military themes. Still, I loved the movie, “Gunga Din,” (with Gary Grant and Sam Jaffe) set in colonial British India and based on the Kipling poem of the same name. So, putting my literary prejudices aside, I read through the small book and came upon a poem that has stayed with me.
“Giffen’s Debt,” written in 1886, tells the story of a British officer in India who somehow plummets into debt and is decommissioned from the service in disgrace. Giffen, writes Kipling, takes to drink, loses all his friends and seeks refuge in a village where the natives accept him, support him and even find him a wife.
Kipling describes him as fellow officers viewed him, “always drunk, unclean, abominable, out-at-heels; forgetting that he was an Englishman.”
A tragedy falls upon the village and the surrounding area when a dam, built with defective materials, bursts and sends “several hundred thousand cubic tons of water” into the valley, but drowning only 25 villagers in the heavily populated area. Among the dead, found six miles away under a dead horse, is Giffen. His fellow officers decide Giffen “fell victim to the demon drink,” was of no real loss and promptly forgot him.
The villagers told another story – “a foolish legend of the flood,” wrote Kipling – about a larger-than-life hero who rode through the valley upon a monstrous stead, driving almost all the villagers out of harm’s way and saving a country side at the expense of his own life.
Giffen is an example of the kind of person we often judge, people who, for reasons unbeknown to us, are plagued with their own demons, but in whose hearts and spirits the divine spark has not been extinguished.
An unlikely hero in the eyes of his peers, Giffen is in the company of untold others whom God has used in spite of their weaknesses. Scripture is full of the stories of people like the Apostle Paul, who once hated Christians; David, the king who was also an adulterer and murderer; Samson, who gloried in his own strength; Gideon, who was afraid to follow God’s command for him, and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who ends up as a mother in the line of David, the line of Jesus Christ, giving testimony to the unlimited power of God to transform lives.
Without a doubt, there are unlikely heroes in our lives, perhaps in our families or our various communities. We may not recognize them because we look at them with our own prejudiced vision. But God calls us to look with the eyes of faith … even when we look in the mirror.
Mary Morrell serves as managing editor of The Monitor.[[In-content Ad]]