When I first saw the National Championship winning quarterback who wore Bible verses under his eyes, I didn’t like him. When he began starting for the Broncos, I confess, I looked forward to watching him fail. And when he started winning and “tebowing” on the sidelines, I disliked him even more. As I write this, he is playing the Steelers (my mortal enemies) who are led by Ben Roethlisberger, a poster boy for bad behavior. Yet, once again, I find myself pulling against Tebow.
Born to Baptist missionaries, Tim Tebow is clearly sincere about his faith. By all accounts he is a hard-working, respectful young man who is trying to honor God. Unlike so many other sports superstars, he sets a good example for kids. He’s a competitor who truly cares about the game instead of just collecting a paycheck. All he’s really doing that annoys me is expressing his faith; the same faith I supposedly share with him. So what’s my problem with the guy?
It doesn’t really bother me that he’s inserting a selfless religion of love into a game that celebrates violence. For me, the issue is that Tim personifies the segment of Christians who often think of themselves as the apple of God’s eye. They claim a special relationship with their Heavenly Father and believe they have been set apart from everyone else. If other people aren’t one of them, well, they’re just not on God’s starting team. Having grown up in a similar environment, I’ve seen that lead to elitism and grandiosity that can be off-putting and even dangerous.
When Tim looks to the sky and points to God after a touchdown, I can’t help but feel like it diminishes the greatness of God. Is the Creator of the Universe really spending His Sunday afternoon eating chips and watching football? Even if He did help Tim throw that touchdown, does that mean He cares less for the cornerback who blew the coverage? Certainly, if public demonstrations of faith are any indication, Tim does care more about God than his opponents do. Who knows? Maybe God appreciates getting a little love now and then.
The Bible says King David was a man after God’s own heart. (1st Samuel 13: 14) While David was apparently a fierce warrior, he also sang and danced and leapt in front of everyone to honor God. His public spectacles of praise embarrassed his wife, Michal, so much that she despised him. (2nd Samuel 6: 12 – 16) Is Tim a modern day David, slaying Goliaths with his weak sling shot of an arm? He has far exceeded the expectations of opposing defenses and confounded the experts who claimed he couldn’t make NFL caliber passes. So, if Tim is David, does that make me Michal?
If I am a little jealous, it’s because Christianity hasn’t worked the same way for me. When I was a kid, I wanted to be the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. (Needless to say, that didn’t work out.) While I’ve never been as publicly demonstrative as Tim, I have witnessed to strangers on the beach during Spring Break; I’ve been prostrate at church in a desperate attempt to show God my sincerity. If I scored points with the Big Man, it didn’t immediately translate to touchdowns, literally or figuratively.
I know witnessing and worship are not supposed to be about what I can get out of it. However, that can sometimes seem to be the dynamic that Tim inadvertently sets up. If Tim wins, God wins. So what does it mean if Tim loses? Does God lose too? We have to be careful not to put ourselves ahead of God, which is why Christ warns us, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” (Matthew 6: 5) While Tim tries to put Christ first, he can seem to be attempting to co-opt God for his own success.
Every Sunday, football divides us into winners or losers. Of course, everyone always wants to be a winner, even though that’s not reality. In my personal experience, I’ve probably learned deeper lessons in my losses. Don’t get me wrong; claiming a hard fought victory has been a powerful motivator. But learning to humbly accept my own limitations is a vital part of the Christian experience too. “For consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1: 2 – 3)
If he hasn’t already, my guess is there will come a time when Tim will have his own struggles and deal with his own crisis of private doubts. When he does, I hope he comes through it even stronger. In the meantime, maybe I should stop judging my brother so harshly and concentrate on being the best Christian I can be. While I’m at it, it’s possible I should adjust my attitude and be more open to the variety of ways that God can speak to us, even if that’s through an enthusiastic, young quarterback.
This just in: Tim Tebow throws a strike to defeat the Steelers in over-time! And, to my surprise, I actually find myself cheering for the Broncos. For all I know, God is in his sky booth at Mile High Stadium cheering along too. Tim’s doing his thing; throwing touchdowns, winning games, and being bold about his faith. Good for him. Of course, God doesn’t need us to give Him the glory, but believing in the greatness of God can do miraculous things for us. Just ask Tim Tebow.
This article originally appeared in the Elephant Journal.