The High Road of Humility

If you didn’t watch the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush on Wednesday at the National Cathedral, you have probably at least seen video clips or news articles about it by now. There were moving testimonies to the legacy of a president whose politics didn’t always excite people, but whose character and “kinder, gentler” personality will be what he is best remembered for.

It was a rare occasion with all five living American presidents in attendance, along with five vice-presidents. There were dignitaries and heads of state from around the globe as the nation and world paid final respects to our 41st president. President George W. Bush delivered an emotional eulogy, calling his father “a great and noble man,” and “the best father a son or daughter could ever have.”

The elder Bush had a distinguished career in politics before being president. The former World War II fighter pilot, who survived being shot down in the Pacific during the war, later served as a U.S. Congressman, ambassador to China, CIA director, chairman of the Republican National Committee and two-term vice-president under Ronald Reagan, before being elected president in 1988. He led the nation during the first Persian Gulf War, and was president during the historic fall of the Berlin Wall.

More than that, he was a faithful husband to his wife Barbara, who died in April after 73 years of marriage, and a beloved father of seven children, one of whom died at the age of three, but several others who have had successful careers in politics themselves.

Regardless of your view of his politics, you cannot deny that his civility, decency and sincerity are often missing in today’s highly charged political climate. As often is the case in politics, his accomplishments are being recognized more in his death than while he served. At the very least, he was a man of unassuming character who never brought disrespect to the office of president, and he was a gentleman.

President Bush was never outspoken about his relationship with God, and sometimes even seemed uncomfortable articulating his faith. But those who knew him best spoke of his deep sense of God’s calling on his life and a deep responsibility of stewardship to serve others. At his funeral, his pastor spoke of the peace and assurance the president had as he awaited his homegoing to heaven.

One verse that served as a theme for his life came from the words of Jesus in Luke’s gospel: “To whom much is given, of him much shall be required.” That is, the blessings you receive form a mandate for your life. You show gratitude by serving, by living for a greater cause than yourself.

Another favorite verse of the former president was Proverbs 27:2: “Let another man praise you, and not your own lips.” As writer Stephen Mansfield wrote, “It was nearly the Bush family creed. Never vaunt yourself. Never set yourself above. No good will come of it, and God is watching.”

From a distance, it was that humility that most characterized President Bush, and all the more because it served in stark contrast to others in positions of power in the political arena. Former Senator Alan Simpson, a close friend and colleague of the former president, provided one of the more memorable quotes while eulogizing the president in the memorial service. He said, “Those who travel the high road of humility are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

Indeed, men like George H.W. Bush are few and far between these days. He was, as his son President Bush the 43rd, said at his service, “the brightest of a thousand points of light.” May we learn from his example of quiet faith, faithful character and genuine humility in our generation.