“When Tim Tebow loses, does God, too?”

The football playoffs are in full swing.  Perhaps there has been no football question I have received that is more frequent than, “What do you think of Tim Tebow?”  While that somewhat disappoints me,  (I would hope I could have other opinions about who might be really good and who will win) I guess my role as a pastor invites people to wonder what I think.  Saturday, Tebow’s Denver Broncos lost to the New England Patriots in an AFC playoff game in rather lopsided fashion.  It was a game that set a rating record. Many Christians I know have looked at Tebow with either interest or embarrassment or perhaps a mixture of both.   As I have spoken with people, I hear admiration expressed for a young man who is so up-front and unapologetic about his faith.  There is also admiration for a young man who not only professes his faith, but also lives it out by caring for poor and sick and/or injured young people as few professional athletes have.   The searing response to his expressions of faith have however, prompted some to ask if Tebow isn’t a bit ‘over the top.’   Folks ask if he (and by implication we as sincere Christians) wouldn’t  be better off if we just closeted our faith a bit and be quiet.  Some say he should just let his example shine.

It has been ironic how severe the criticism of Tebow has been in light of other professional athletic scandals.  We have heard of rapes, drug charges, shootings and simply boorish behavior on the part of athletes in the spot light.  But I am hard-pressed to name a single one of them who has received the same level of critique that this young man who is simply very present about his faith and expresses it in a fairly overt way.  In some circles that is what has made him a target.

Up until now I have been somewhat mum on the subject, but an article in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker titled “When Tim Tebow loses, does God, too?”  is one that I think is worth looking at.  Mr. Krattenmaker articulated for me, what I wish I could have written.  He said,

“When a subculture hitches its credibility to a star Christian athlete, and said athlete stumbles (as he eventually will), someone ends up with egg on his or His face. Of course, any embarrassment belongs not to God, but to those who would hold up something as fleeting as sports success as evidence for Christianity’s truth, while ignoring the innumerable cases of upstanding Christian figures who fail on the field. Don’t forget: Lots of those Pittsburgh Steelers victimized by Tebow’s heroics a week ago are deep-believing Christians, too.

Anyone with a well-developed handle on the meaning of Christian faith will tell you that God’s presence is not something that waxes and wanes like the fortunes of football players. This is one big reason why it has proved so compelling to so many people over the ages. As Tebow’s bad games and errant passes attest, a football player’s victories and stat-sheet digits are no place to look for Christianity’s vindication.

Sure, use Tim Tebow as your test case for Christianity. Use his irrepressible spirit, his impressive character, his exemplary treatment of his fellow human beings…”

 I would suggest you read the entire column.  For me, I think the dilemma of Tim Tebow is that it uncovers a deep conflict within  that is birthed by my desire to hold onto two competing values.  I want to serve God with my whole heart, but I find myself wishing that Tebow could go all the way to the Super Bowl in this, his inaugural year.  I would like him to be ‘successful.’  I would like God to show the world that Christians can end up on top.  I want to end up on top.  But Krattenmaker touches what is wrong with this desire; it runs counter to the witness of Jesus Christ.  At the crucifixion we cannot really say Jesus ended up on top.  Neither did He say, “If you follow me, you’ll be successful.”  Yet all too often I have heard that message subtly coming across in various Christian venues.  Trust in God and you’ll be a winner!  Certainly eternal life is a form of coming out on top, but here in this world Jesus tells us the way of His kingdom is that of service and suffering.  I’m with Krattenmaker.  I pray that Tim Tebow’s unmistakable imprint on our culture instead of being either successful or unsuccessful as an NFL quarterback, comes instead by “his irrepressible spirit, his impressive character, his exemplary treatment of his fellow human beings…” no matter how his career turns out.  And I pray for myself that I can end this love affair with being successful and instead double down on a love affair with the one who was rejected, served and died that I might be forgiven.  That Jesus is the one who has the words of eternal life!


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