About a week ago Will and I took the boys to Theodore Roosevelt Island — a great place to let our yardless boys run around and gain a couple tidbits of history at the same time. If you’ve never been, it is literally a little island in the Potomac, closer to the Virginia side than DC, but almost directly in front of the Kennedy Center. There is a foot bridge onto the Island and then in the center, where there is a clearing of trees, there is a rather large statue of Roosevelt and tall stone tablets engraved with some of his quotes. It is simple and charming, and we hadn’t been there in years and years. This photograph isn’t exactly an Ansel Adams, but it did help me remember to blog about this quote. And I love this quote.
“Alike for the nation and the individual the one indispensable requisite is character.”
I agree with Teddy, don’t you? Character is vital. But the quote really just begs the question, doesn’t it? How does one come to be a person of character anyway? Well, for the follower of Christ the answer is clear. In Romans 5, Paul tells us that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” This rings true for me. The people in my life with the greatest depth of character are people who have suffered. My grandfather passed away five years ago, and how I miss his encouragement and faithful prayers on my behalf! He was a man of great character, and I’m confident that part of his depth can be explained by the great suffering he endured early in life. His father died when he was a young teenager, and he also had osteomyelitis in his leg, which meant he was in and out of the hospital for years, spending weeks at a time there.
Although years later my grandfather was cured with antibiotics, before that he racked up countless surgeries and experimental therapies, including maggot therapy. Yes, maggots in his leg, and oddly it helped. But with a working mother, raising seven children, my great-grandmother Ida had only so much time to spend at my grandfather’s bedside. When she would go to leave the hospital, he would cling to her and beg her to stay with him. What a heart wrenching picture that paints in my head–the very idea of leaving one of my sons like that. But sometimes just carrying on, just doing what you have to do, just persevering produces character. That family, those children of Ida, who persevered in very tough times all had incredible character and faith. Even their offspring, my second and third cousins, seem to have inherited the indelible mark of Ida.
But what about godless people who have lived decent and honorable lives, lives of undeniable character? They may not be terribly common, but we all know people who are committed to leading an ethical life apart from God. It can be done. The problem is that it doesn’t make a lick of sense to do it. Apart from God there is no reference point for good. There is no standard. Without an ultimate source of truth, moral relativism is the necessary conclusion. So the secular ethicist has a hard road; his path is illogical and he lacks the power of the Holy Spirit to enable him to lead a moral life.
So the Roosevelt quote identifies an important what: character. It is just missing the how and the why, which are actually one and the same: Jesus.