The Dark Side of Greatness
“There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen . . . [and] now he belongs to the ages.”
Of whom was this said?
One of the Caesars? No. Napoleon? No. Alexander the Great? No. Eisenhower? Patton? MacArthur . . . or some earlier military strategist like Grant or Lee or Pershing? No, none of the above. How about Rockne or Lombardi? No. Or Luther? Calvin? Knox? Wesley? Spurgeon? Again, the answer is no.
Well, it was no doubt said of a great leader, a powerful and persuasive personality, was it not? Certainly one admired for his success. That depends, I suppose.
When he was 7 years old, his family was forced out of their home because of a legal technicality. He had to work to help support them.
At age 9, while still a backward, shy little boy, his mother died.
At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education was not good enough.
At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. Three years later his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay.
At 28, after developing a romantic relationship with a young lady for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. An earlier youthful love he shared with a lovely girl ended in heartache at her death.
At 37, on his third try, he was finally elected to Congress. Two years later he ran again and failed to be reelected. I should add it was about this time he had what some today would call a nervous breakdown.
At 41, adding additional heartache to an already unhappy marriage, his 4-year-old son died.
The next year he was rejected for Land Officer.
At 45, he ran for the Senate again and lost.
Two years later, he was defeated for nomination for Vice President.
At 49, he ran for the Senate again . . . and lost again.
Add to this an endless barrage of criticism, misunderstanding, ugly and false rumors, and deep periods of depression and you realize it’s no wonder he was snubbed by his peers and despised by multitudes, hardly the envy of his day.
At 51, however, he was elected President of the United States . . . but his second term in office was cut short by his assassination. As he lay dying in a little rooming house across from the place where he was shot, a former detractor (Edwin Stanton) spoke the fitting tribute I quoted at the top of this devotional. By now you know it was spoken of the most inspirational and highly regarded president in American history. Abraham Lincoln.
What a strange lot we are! Enamored with the dazzling lights, the fickle applause of the public, the splash of success, we seldom trace the lines that led to that flimsy and fleeting pinnacle. Bitter hardship. Unfair and undeserved abuses. Loneliness and loss. Humiliating failures. Debilitating disappointments. Agony beyond comprehension suffered in the valley and crevices of the climb from bottom to top.
How shortsighted! Instead of accepting the fact that no one deserves the right to lead without first persevering through pain and heartache and failure, we resent those intruders. We treat them as enemies, not friends. We forget that the marks of greatness are not delivered in a paper sack by capricious gods. They are not hurriedly stuck onto skin like a tattoo.
No, those who are really worth following have paid their dues. They have come through the furnace melted, beaten, reshaped, and tempered. To use the words of the teacher from Tarsus, they bear in their bodies “the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Or, as one paraphrases it, they carry “the scars of the whippings and wounds” which link them to all mankind.
Small wonder when such people move from time to eternity they “belong to the ages.”