Brian Williams and our need for grace

Published 10:58 pm Friday, February 13, 2015

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes

For the past couple of weeks, as the sad story of Brian Williams has unfolded, we have watched the destruction of a career and a reputation.

Williams was perhaps the leading news anchor in the country. But then word broke that he had told a “tall tale” about coming under enemy fire in Iraq. Furthermore, he had continued to repeat and even embellish the story through the years.

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This revelation initiated a feeding frenzy, and other stories began to come out. In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, he dramatically stated that a body had floated past his hotel — but his hotel was in an area that did not flood. He told of street gangs roving through the same hotel, which is also now disputed.

The question on many minds is why a person like Brian Williams would feel the need to lie or exaggerate. After all, this was not some young buck trying to earn his spurs. Brian Williams was already at the top of his profession when he said these things. Why would he do this?

Deep within all of us is a yearning to impress others. There is within our fallen nature a deep desire to receive human approval and acclaim. And this desire can lead to some foolish decisions.

This drive to impress is like crack: It is highly addictive and it does not satisfy. It wasn’t enough for Williams to be the leading anchor in America — apparently he had to make people think he was a great adventurer as well.

What can free us from the desire to impress others? Only one thing: Living our lives for an audience of One.

In Galatians 1:10, the Apostle Paul says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

We have a choice: We can either live for the glory and honor of God, or we can seek human approval and acclaim, but we can’t live for both.

Of course, all of us have failed to completely live for God’s glory. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

And that brings us to something all of us sinners need, something called grace. In the days after the Williams story broke, grace was in short supply. He became the object of ridicule on social media. Mocking Twitter photos went viral: In one he claimed to have been with Lincoln, in another he was walking on the moon, in another he was at the Last Supper.

We may laugh, but consider the words of Peter Wehner: “For most of us, our failures, including our character failures, are not on full public display. They’re not focused on, dissected, talked about on national television and made the punch line of endless jokes. If they were, it would be a rather searing experience.”

That it would. We should be praying for Brian Williams, not mocking him. I suppose NBC’s decision to suspend him for six months was justified. But I’m hoping he is given a second chance.

All of us needed grace extended to us, and God extended it. He gave his Son for us. Let’s extend it to others.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.