Brian Williams and the Tragedy of the Male Ego

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Like most Americans, I was astonished by the brazen and inept lies told by NBC anchorman Brian Williams about his faux exploits while covering the war in Iraq.  Moreover, I find his precipitous fall (which surely is accelerating even as I write) to be sadly instructive about men in general and the male ego in particular.  Here we have a man who perched virtually at the pinnacle of alpha-dogness as measured on a global scale.  Suave, handsome, wealthy, and admired by legions.  What more could any man need?  The answer, it seems, is "a whole lot more."  

Experienced pastors will recognize in Brian Williams the tragedy of the male ego, which results in the demise of so many members from our sin-corrupted gender.  What is the tragedy of the male ego?  That in our sinful state we can never attain satisfaction, never experience significance, and never feel secure.  Pastors see the injured ego as a man betrays his wife -- not primarily because of lust but because self-pity has granted permission for the emotional and sexual solace of a secretary or the wife of a friend.  We see the envious male ego cause otherwise successful pastors to succumb to resentment over preachers with greater celebrity, sullying in the process their usefulness to the Lord.  Brian Williams emblemizes the insecurity that men feel about themselves, which so easily leads to exaggeration and self-deception.  The fantasy history slips into conversation because our ego has grown sullen over our petty little lives and inglorious achievements.

Solomon was a man who knew plenty about the folly of the male ego.  He exposed in Ecclesiastes the desperate realization that leads so many to self-destruction: "Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!" (Eccl. 1:2).  He was talking about life "under the sun," that is, life in this fallen and falling world, with the ultimate insignificance of toil, riches, achievement, and experiences.  However much we have, it will never be enough and the feeling will never last.  Here is the reality "under the sun" that fuels the tragedy of the fallen male ego.

Like everyone else these days, I click on #BrianWilliamsMisremembers and laugh at the parodies of his runaway conceit.  Yet I find that the laughter catches in my throat.  I, too, am a man who lives "under the sun," and my own little life also promotes feelings of insignificance and self-pity.  My little ego has also felt desires for a fiction that is more spectacular than fact.  If Brian Williams exposes the tragedy of the male ego, and mine is an ego much like his, where is the escape from the trap of this despair and deceit?  The Christian man knows the answer: the answer is to surrender our ego - our identity and sense of importance - to the glory and grace that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  The only way to escape Solomon's life "under the sun" is to embrace the apostle Paul's life "in Christ."

One of the New Testament passages that most helps me escape the siren cry of the fallen ego is John 3:25-30.  John the Baptist was confronted by news that his followers were leaving for the newly prominent rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.  His staff officers were angry and their egos were hurt for John's sake.  John's answer provides an expression of true Christian manhood and an escape from the tawdry chaos of the fallen male ego.  He gave three replies in which Christian men may find escape from our pitiful inner selves.

First, John said, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven" (Jn. 3:27).  This reminds me not to glory even in the actual things I have done and become, much less those which I have not, since it all comes from the sovereign grace of God.  I escape the trap of male self-pity by giving God all the glory for everything praiseworthy in my life.  As a side benefit, I am simultaneously freed no longer to envy but to rejoice in the praiseworthy things exhibited by God in others. 

Second, comparing himself to the best man at a wedding, John spoke of his joy in seeing sinners come to Jesus to be saved: "The friend of the bridegroom... rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice" (Jn. 3:29).  This is how I escape the ego trap that so easily ensnares preachers of the gospel in the presence of others who are more gifted and successful.  What is the reward I am seeking through my service to Christ?  Just this: the joy of playing any role at all in leading sinners to Jesus for salvation.  If the reward I seek in serving Jesus is simply the joy of serving one so great as him, the jealousy of my ego will be drowned in the joy of his gospel.

Third, John declared, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30).  Here is the resolution that grants true deliverance from the tyranny of the male ego.  To say, with Paul, "For from him, and through him, and to him all are things.  To him be glory forever!" (2 Cor. 4:6).  Like John the Baptist, to lay down my own aspirations at the feet of his majestic throne!  Renouncing the vanity of all things "under the sun," my precious ego most of all, I find true and abiding satisfaction in "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).  Oh, for Jesus to increase!  Thus am I freed from the curse of pride and lifted up in the blessing of servant-like humility in Christ!

Inspired by John the Baptist's testimony of his significance in Christ, perhaps we Christian men should stop laughing at the tragic hubris of Brian Williams.  After all, it is only our own tragic egos that he has shamefully displayed.  Let us, instead, pray that he would instead find rest in the glory of Christ, that Jesus might be exalted in him.

Posted February 10, 2015 @ 5:18 PM by Rick Phillips

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