The Insightful Mr. Brooks

He’s a Jew.

He’s a highly intelligent and sophisticated journalist and commentator.

He calls himself a conservative but takes liberal views on several social issues, including abortion and gay marriage. He writes for The New York Times as a columnist. He has been a regular on National Public Radio.

He greatly admires John McCain, and is a Republican who says the party must move beyond Goldwater/Reagan ideas of limited government. However, he has worked for such conservative publications as National Review, The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.

He’s suspected by both the Right and the Left – which means he’s unpredictable in his views.

Some would say conflicted.

Yes, I’ll admit it, I like David Brooks. Not because I always agree with him but because I know he’s thoughtful and insightful – and worth reading and listening to.

Brooks has written a few books. The last one, just published, is entitled The Road to Character.

 Mr. Brooks shares studies of several historical figures from Augustine to Eisenhower and analyzes how they developed their character.

 “I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character,” Brooks says, “but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.”

Ironically, Brooks takes a Christian view.

Followers of Jesus Christ, especially those in leadership, would do well to consider the profoundly orthodox biblical perspective offered by this unorthodox political commentator and cultural Jew. Brooks is a breath of fresh air – bracing perhaps but a wonderful antidote to our pervasive shallowness.

In his closing chapter, The Big Me, Brooks takes direct aim at the arrogance and superficiality that threaten American Christianity.

He enumerates a Humility Code which he argues is central to walking the road to character.

“We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness” Brooks writes.

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”, Peter insists, “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15, NIV).

Pursuing happiness may be viewed as a semi-constitutional right, but God places a much higher priority on being holy. Peter traces the divine command back to Leviticus. David Brooks is familiar with the scriptures and the ancient Jewish law. And he understands that the singular desire for personal satisfaction breeds selfishness and entitlement.

Holiness breeds character.

Some of this country’s biggest and fastest growing churches feed on greed, envy and headlong ambition.  Materialism has replaced spirituality – in fact, it has been falsely represented as spirituality.

“God wants you to be happy!”

But an ancient writer called that pursuit “chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

When Robert E. Lee handed a small child back to his parents he told them, “Teach him to deny himself.”  Here was honest and simple wisdom spoken by a man of greatness who had walked, through adversity, the road to character.

Jesus tells us to take up our cross.

“We are flawed creatures,” Brooks reminds us. This is the key to grasping the crisis of our time with peace and discernment.  Man’s inhumanity; his cruelty and oppression; his audacious immorality and his fearsome capacity for unmitigated evil are all rooted in this fundamental truth about the world and our place in it.

Calvinists call this “the total depravity of man”. They are right. In the face of recorded history and in the moral rebellion and turmoil of our new century, even the most incurable optimist must concede this central truth.

“Humility is the greatest virtue,” Brooks points out, and “pride is the central vice.”

CS Lewis agreed, adding that in the sin of pride, all other sins find their true origin. Pride makes us entitled – to success, health and wealth. Pride makes us too easily and irreverently familiar with a sovereign and awesome God, too unwilling to bow before him, too quick to judge others and too independent to stand in the need of grace.

Pride was the cause of humankind’s original fall and it continues to cause heartbreaking disasters. The narcissism that infects our culture is the result of defiant pride.

Humility is the path to true greatness and the only road to character. Proverbs and the psalms reflect it, Paul and Peter exhorted it and Jesus modeled it.  Every one of the lives Brooks studied and wrote about was marked by humility. It may be an elusive virtue but it is an essential one and well worth cultivating.

Humility makes us indebted – to God for his mercy and to others because of it.

“The struggle against sin and for virtue is the central drama of life,” Brooks asserts, and “character is built in the course of your inner confrontation.”

That struggle lasts a lifetime. It’s called perseverance.

As great as he was, the apostle Paul mourned over his too often defeated battle against his sinful nature. In wrestling with my own flesh, I have often drawn comfort from Paul’s inner conflict.

“No person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own,” Brooks concludes, and so “we are all ultimately saved by grace.”

Indeed we are Mr. Brooks.

It’s God’s matchless and amazing grace that gives us the strength, joy and confidence to travel our own road to character.

May God bless you and your family.

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Filed under Christian World View, Current Events, Faith, Politics, Religion

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