Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Jesus and Tim Tebow Part 4
This is the last in my series of posts on Tim Tebow, faith, and football. I’ve been trying to answer some questions that I think have been coming up as the Tebow phenomenon has steamed through the NFL season.
This final post, I think, could be the most important one in terms of understanding how God relates to us as Christians.
Another week, another miracle win for Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. By now, the extraordinary seems to have become routine. This Sunday, during a playoff game against the heavily favored Pittsburg Steelers, Tebow threw an 80 yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to win the game for the Broncos. It was the longest game winning overtime touchdown pass in NFL history. Tebow set several other records in the game, while passing for 316 yards in the win. Get it? 316 yards? 3:16? Like John 3:16? Yep, seems like another miracle in a series of them for the well known Christian quarterback. Again and again this season, there have been so many coincidences and so many “miracles" for Tebow that a lot of people, including non-Christians, are beginning to wonder if God really is on Tim Tebow’s side, if there is some kind of “Angels in the Outfield” thing going on here.
This case presents us with several really important questions. Does God really care who wins football games? Is that something he really gets involved in? If he does, how do we explain all the times believers lose? What if there are the same amount of believers on both teams? Do good things happen to good people? Is that how it works? Is Tebow’s performance a reward for his exemplary Christian life?
I think all of these questions have a single over-arching theme to them. If there is a God, and that God is to be found in Christianity, and Christianity is about good behavior, then shouldn’t good behavior be rewarded? Either God is involved, and he is helping everything to turn out well in the world for Christians, or he’s not involved, and he’s leaving them to fend for themselves in certain times and places. So either football is a place where God involved, and he’s helping the best Christians to win, or he is not involved, and he’s just letting the people decide the outcomes. I think this theme is based on a lot of false assumptions.
First, let me say this very clearly. God cares about the outcome of football games. God is ultimately paying attention to who wins every single game that is played, from pee-wee all the way up to the NFL. And he cares about the outcome of baseball games and hockey games and golf tournaments and boxing matches and curling contests. I’m not as sure about soccer. (Just kidding) How can I say such a thing? Does this sound possible? Is God really a fan of all these sports? Here is what I mean. God cares about the outcome of games, because he cares about everything. Listen to what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 ESV)
What is the point of Jesus here? There’s a specific point about the fact that Christians need not fear anyone, because God is ultimately in control of their destinies. But there is a more general point here too, I think, and that’s that God has his eye on every detail of what is happening in the world. If he cares about how many hairs I have on my head, then he cares about whether or not Tim Tebow’s team wins football games. Let me push this point a little bit further. Not only does God care about the outcome of football games, but he is using their outcome for his ultimate purposes. How do I know this? Because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV) All things, Paul says. Every single thing that happens in the universe, from the flapping of a butterfly's wings to the business between you and your boss at work, to that stomach ache you had last night, to the outcome of this Sunday’s Broncos/Patriots game, is being worked together for good to accomplish God’s purposes. I simply take “all things,” to mean all things.
Let me even go one step further. Not only is God working all things together for good, he is ultimately sovereign over all things, the final arbiter of what happens and what does not happen. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33) In other words, even things that seem to be mere chance are not. There is nothing in the world that happens that is not either ordained or allowed by God. He can cause anything to happen, and he can prevent anything from happening. If it happens, it is because God has allowed it to happen. This includes the outcome of football games.
Now, before we go any further, we need to slow down a bit. Before I can get to my ultimate point, my most important point, I want to make this point. Just because God is ordaining everything that comes to pass, that does not mean that God is miraculously intervening to make Tim Tebow win football games, despite his circumstance and ability. God’s normal way of doing things is not through the miraculous. It is through the ordinary. The means by which God has ordained that the Broncos win their games is by giving Tim Tebow and his teammates particular athletic abilities, that they have honed over the years, by giving them coaches who have taught them the game, by giving them minds to understand what they need to do, and by giving them personalities that can work together in a particular way. This is the same way for you. It is God’s providential hand that gets you back and forth from work every day. But that doesn’t make it miraculous. God is using ordinary means to accomplish his ultimate purposes. This doesn’t deny that he doesn’t sometimes use extraordinary, miraculous means. It’s just not how he normally does it.
So that brings us to our final question. Is Tim Tebow winning football games because of his faith in God? And I think the answer is yes and no. What do I mean? God is working everything together for Tim Tebow’s good. That means all the wins that have happened this year have been part of that plan. But if Tim Tebow never leads a team to another victory, it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned him. The Christians on all the losing teams this year have not been abandoned by God. In the same way, if you are a Christian going through a difficult season in life, God has not abandoned you. But God’s plans are higher than the simple, “If I’m good, God will be good to me.” We make a mistake when we say that we will be guaranteed health and wealth and prosperity if we just have enough faith. We have not been promised that. We have actually been promised just the opposite. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble, and that if we follow him, we would have difficulty. So a loss in a football game, or the loss of a loved one, or the loss of money or home or status, is not sign of God’s disfavor. It could be a sign of just the opposite actually.
Here’s the bottom line: if you are a Christian, if you have followed Jesus, if you are trusting Jesus as your only hope for right relationship with God, then God is 100% for you, no matter what your circumstance might be. No matter what happens in your life, whether you “win” or “lose,” God is on your side. God’s favor toward you is not earned by anything you do, nor is it demonstrated by anything that happens to you. God demonstrated how much he loved you, and how much he is for you, when he sent his Son to die in your place. You deserved eternal death, but you get eternal life. If you believe that, then you can also believe that is all you need! Whether or not your team wins or loses, or whether or not your family turns out ok, or whether or not you get to keep your job in this recession, or whether or not you have friends or riches or comfort is not the ultimate sign that God’s favor rests with you. The ultimate sign is the fact that Jesus died for you!
So is God on Tim Tebow’s side? You betcha! And if you are a believer, he’s on your side too! He is for you. And if he is for you, nothing can be against you. He is working through all of Tim Tebow’s circumstances, win and losses; and he’s working through all of your circumstances, the wins and the losses, to see your ultimate good and his ultimate glory brought about. Embrace this and live in this and let it change you.