Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thugs, Punks, and the Image of God

I, like many people on Sunday night, saw the exciting ending of the Seahawks-49'ers game in the AFC Championship. And as exciting as the game itself was, the post-game might have been even more entertaining. For those who haven't heard yet, the game ended with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deflecting a would be game-winning touchdown pass into the the hands of a linebacker for an interception. The game was over. The Seahawks were going to the Super Bowl. Sherman was the hero. At least he was for a couple of minutes, until the clock officially ran down to zero.

That's when sideline reporter Erin Andrews caught up with Sherman, and he gave what has become a classic post-game rant, when asked about that final, game-clinching play. "I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get!" Sherman screamed. "Don't you ever talk about me!" 

My first reaction was for my jaw to drop. It's rare you hear that kind of candor and bravado from an athlete, at least in public.My second reaction to the rant was professional: I thought Erin Andrews must be the happiest person on the planet. Reporters work their entire careers hoping for sound bites like that one. My third reaction was that the internet was about to blow up.

A quick check of Twitter and Facebook confirmed it. Some called him a thug. Others a punk. Some people called him things I won't repeat, and suggested things should be done to him that seemed a bit over the top. The bottom line is this; many people decided, based on a 15 second sound bite, that this guy was a bad guy. And nothing you could say or do would change their minds.

We all want life to be cut and dry, black and white, simple to understand. That's why we use labels. It's a shorthand way to make a judgment on someone without having to put too much thought into it. But situations, and people, are never as simple as they originally appear. When we label someone in that way, it's really an attempt to write someone off, to not have to wrestle with any of the complexities of their life. We do this in the other direction also: Good guy. Hero. Role Model. 

But as Christians, we know that it is just not that simple. First, let me be clear: Christianity says certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. It's pretty cut and dry on that. But people are a little more complicated. The best people are capable of some really bad things. The apostle Paul himself said, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (Romans 7:19) No matter how "good" a person may be, outside the grace of God, they are capable of horrible sins. How many times have you been shocked that someone you considered a "good person," was caught cheating on his wife, or stealing from the company coffers, or simply losing her temper on her children or co-workers? 

On the other hand, Jesus makes clear that even the most pagan of people are capable of great good,  loving their brothers and family and friends. (Matthew 5:47-48) You don't have to be a Christian to have a major positive impact on the world. Ask Bill Gates. God's common grace stretches its hands everywhere.

This is the bottom line: every single human being is made in the image of God, and when we throw labels on them, it is an attempt to dehumanize them, and therefore de-legitimize their image-bearing. All of us are cracked images in our current state, but none of us are beyond having that image repaired and restored, eventually, perfectly. So for Christians, there are only two labels we can put on people - redeemed and redeemable. It would be good for us to remind ourselves of that regularly.

Here's what I know about Richard Sherman. He bears the image of God. It is a cracked image, just like mine. But it is not beyond redemption. Thankfully, neither was mine.