by Michael J. Klassen
For over 20 years, Robert Young was one of the most respected men in America. Beginning in 1954, he played the role of Jim Anderson, an insurance salesman and father extraordinaire on the television program Father Knows Best. The Anderson family became the prototype for white, suburban American families with Robert Young as the measure of all good dads.
Nine years after his program concluded, Young made the jump to upper middle-class when he assumed the role of Dr. Marcus Welby on Marcus Welby MD. So believable was he that people sought him for medical advice off the set. His television program ran from 1969 to 1976. Over his 22 year run, Young garnered three Best Actor Emmys—two for Father’s Knows Best and one for Marcus Welby MD.
Who wouldn’t want to be Robert Young?
Well, to begin with, Robert Young. His ongoing bouts with depression and alcoholism, and frustrated by his inability to escape his “nice guy” persona and break into the movies, Young unsuccessfully tried to take his life in the early 1990s. He died in 1998.
I, for one, was astonished when I heard that Robert Young tried to commit suicide. He seemed so…put together.
Then five days ago, news surfaced about another personality who sought to take his life—this time successfully. Joseph Brooks is best known for writing the song “You Light Up My Life.” Beautifully sung by Debby Boone, the song debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for a record-setting 10 weeks, earning Boone a Grammy for Best New Artist. With sales of over four million copies in the U.S. alone, the song ultimately became the biggest hit of the 1970s. It also became a film by the same name, earning an Academy Award for best original song.
Brooks was scheduled to go to trial for sexually assaulting four different women whom he had “auditioned” for movie roles that didn’t exist. He was being tried for 91 counts and charged with rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, assault, and other charges. Other women were also stepping forward with similar claims.
Again, I was astonished by the accusations and his choice to commit suicide because the “nice” song he had written seemed to belie a man who really had it together. Assuredly, his “sensitive” persona as the result of his credentials drew women to trust him.
In our human condition, we try so hard to elevate people to a status that no one can really attain. We expect our leaders to make fair decisions and live perfect lives.
But standing atop a pedestal is a risky proposition. There’s nowhere to go but down and losing your balance is nearly a certainty. The laws of physics demand that standing on any top-heavy structure will likely lead to the person’s downfall. The problem with pedestals is that they fall down.
And yet, still we’re surprised when people eventually fall.
Why We Gravitate Toward Pedestals
After God delivered Israel from the hands of the Egyptians…
After he parted the Red Sea so his people could cross on dry ground…
After he closed the waters on the Egyptian army…
After supplying manna and quail in the desert for food…
After providing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah…
After granting victory to their completely untrained troops over the Amalekite army…
Still, Israel sought to place something on a pedestal.
In Exodus 19-31, Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to enter into a covenantal relationship with God on behalf of Israel. God gave Moses the 10 Commandments, but deeper still, he established the blueprint for how Israel would be his people. With almighty God as their God, idols were unnecessary.
And while Moses communed with God atop the holy mountain, the people below fashioned a golden calf which they worshiped (see Exodus 32).
All of us gravitate toward idols. We want a god we can see and emulate. We expect perfection (the calf was made of gold!). And yet the gods we fashion ultimately fail us. You could say it’s the law of spiritual physics: every idol we place on a pedestal will eventually fall down.
Granted, our leaders should be held to a higher standard, but we shouldn’t be surprised when they live well below our expectations. And media personalities like Robert Young and Joseph Brooks? Well, they’re just as messed up as we are.
Which just goes to show that pedestals don’t make good platforms. They’re nice for holding statues or plants, but they’re lousy at holding people.
And in the end, they’re good reminders that the idols we emulate will never compare with the God who loves us and desire for us to live as his people.
All other gods will fail you.
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.