Since my son now lives in Colorado Springs, I feel the need to take an interest in Colorado football. (That, plus my Redskins are out of contention. And in need of a quarterback. I don’t do sports’ posts. Usually.)
Yesterday I watched my first Tim Tebow game. Putting an exclamation point on his trademark comebacks, he completed an 80-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas in the opening salvo of OT to send the banged up Steelers home to think about what might have been. Tebow and his Broncos get ready for the top-seeded Patriots.
As the game ended, the gritty quarterback who’s brought college tricks to the big league and made them work, sank to the ground in prayer. Taking a knee to celebrate beating Miami in OT in October, what’s become the 2nd year quarterback’s MO became an iconoclastic trend mimicked by admirers around the country. In fact, last month the Global Language Monitor website accepted “Tebowing” as a word–akin to getting print in yesteryear’s Webster’s Dictionary.
Tim has taken a beating in the press–both sports and conventional, because…, well, it’s hard to know where criticism of him as a quarterback ends and criticism of him as a Christian starts. He’s admittedly a very unconventional quarterback. And yes, next weekend may bring the Bronco miracle to an end. But I wonder how much flak he’d attract if the man was an agnostic. That he’s an outspoken Christian seems to gall a lot of people. Why? What are they afraid of?
Look, I confess that every time some winning Christian athlete uses the first 10 seconds of an interview to throw out the name Jesus Christ, I’m a little embarrassed. First, it can suggest that Jesus is for winners and against the losers. Second, it can sound more like the guy’s trying to score points for gutsiness than proclaiming God’s fame. Third, sometimes these same athletes show up in the news with DUI’s, or pulling a gun at a party, or otherwise trashing what they said yesterday on national TV by what they did today.
I’m not seeing that with Tim. In fact, I wonder if that’s what troubles his critics. He’s a likable football player who tries hard to win, who is humble about his successes and circumspect about his failures, who respects opponents and seems to genuinely love others, is doing some good things with his money like building hospitals in the Philippines, and a competitor who kneels to pray. His words in interviews are unapologetic but nonconfrontational, and…, well, he seems genuine. And seems to have figured out how to pursue winning without letting it define him–or his Savior. Earlier in the season with his team down to the Bears in the fourth quarter, a mic’d up Tebow prayed as he headed back out onto the field, “No matter what, win or lose, Lord, give me the strength to honor you.”
In other words, he’s too good to be true. Unbelievers are more comfortable with people of faith who fail because it seems to validate their faithlessness. What they don’t get is that the gospel is only for failures. At some point, Mr. Tebow’s image is going to take a legitimate hit when he does or says something to mar his testimony. He’ll regret it, and the rest of us will wring our hands at the public blow to Christianity. Maybe instead, we should rejoice because it just might allow the real gospel to go public and make the issue the man Jesus Christ instead of the man Tim Tebow. It may happily restate that the gospel has always been the good news of Christ’s work, not ours. And that the gospel is not just for unbelievers, but also for Christians–who regrettably but inevitably still sin. After all, Jesus always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).