Does that mean God’s not a Bronco’s Fan?

This message had two beginnings.   The bulk of this message was completed by the close of day on Friday, but I wasn’t positive how it would begin until late last night.

For those of you who might not know, there was a huge game last night.   Last night the Bronco’s travelled to Foxboro Mass for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. 

By now, I am sure that you know who has won.  The final score was Denver 10, and New England 45.   To say the Pats won, is an understatement.   They crushed the Broncos, and broke records along the way.  There are fewer people than yours truly more excited by the outcome of this game.

Next week, the Patriots will play the Baltimore Ravens (or as Sophie calls them:  “The Voldemort Ravens”) in the conference round of the playoffs, to determine which team will be half of the party on Superbowl Sunday. 

In retrospect, this game received an enormous amount of hype in all places but New Hampshire.   We had some silly thing called the primary that stole most of the news attention over the past week, but for many the game was the pinnacle of the week.   Imagine, presidential politics claiming more attention than football.   This is exactly what’s wrong with America today.

Although some degree of hype in the hometown of any team that is part of the playoffs is expected, there was a portion of last night’s hype that had little to do with football.   In truth, there has been a conversation that has been going on this season for much longer than just this past week.  We have seen something else unfold over the past season, which has revealed a great many things in those who have taken notice.   It seems that over the past four plus months, football and theology has taken front and center.

As these are two of my favorite things in the world, how can let this past weekend go without notice or discussion?  

Regardless of where we stand on the issue or what our gut tells us about the man involved, there has been an extensive discussion on the news, at our offices, and in our living room about Tim Tebow and his faith.   I would be fairly positive that even the least fanatic football fans among us have heard about this young and emerging football star.

Everything about Tebow seems to indicate he should have no place in professional football.   Granted there is a stereotype of footballers that may or may not be true; but there are two positions in football that require immense skill and “football” intelligence:  the first is the middle linebacker (the Tedy Bruschi’s of the NFL) and the Quarterback.

As far as Tebow is concerned he struggles on both sides of that equation. His mechanics are so faulty and so broken, that many pundits believe that if he doesn’t correct them soon that he will not survive the hardship of an extended football career.  He is also criticized for not having that refined football intellect.   He struggles at reading progressions and defenses.  Yet on Saturday night, he lined up against a quarterback that many believe will one day prove to be the greatest to have ever played the sport.

Tim Tebow lined up against Tom Brady, and Tebow Lost.

Although I could spend the next 20 minutes reviewing all the details of yesterday’s game, I will not.  Instead I want to talk to you about the Tim Tebow that is causing wide spread criticism, controversy, and even hatred.    Over the last 4 months, Tebow has become a polarizing figure in the US for one primary reason;   the in your face expression of his faith.  

As I begin this message, and in a desire to be honest, I am not sure where I stand on Tim Tebow.   

First off, Tebow has created a whole new word that has become commonplace in the vernacular of this country:   Tebowing.

Tebowing, according to a website called, is defined “getting down on a knee and praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.  It is an act made famous by the controversial and ultra religious quarterback of the Denver Broncos; Tim Tebow.”    The site, mocks the practice by posting pictures of people tebowing at random sites across the world.  

People have been relentless in criticizing him for that act and you will see him mocked everywhere: from countless websites to Saturday Night Live.    Yet, its not Tebow that is making a spectacle this moment, it’s the media that searches him out in hopes that they can catch him praying.  

I cannot help but ask why is it okay for the meathead player to perform a carefully choreographed touchdown dance with imaginary six shooters firing in the air, but offering a quiet prayer to God becomes taboo. You have to ask yourself why would you condemn a man for praying after he does his job?   Shouldn’t all faithful do the same thing?  Is that really a bad thing?  Is it worth the criticism?

At the same time, I think I agree with Kurt Warner, another former quarterback with strong faith, when he says Tebow should tone it down a bit.  I agree with Warner, when he says his “action should be his testimony”, for in the end people don’t trust his testimony.     

I won’t hide the truth that at times, I find faith hard.  I am regularly challenged with doubts and questions, and as a result I am made uncomfortable by those who profess an unwavering and unflinching daily faith journey.   It doesn’t seem entirely authentic.  

Faith for me is coming to that great cliff in utter darkness, taking that first step, and knowing that an invisible stair would be there to catch me.   I don’t do any of this whole church thing without great fear and trembling.  When I hear Tebow speaking, whether because of some personal jealousies or a general mistrust, I listen with a cocked eyebrow.   Is he for real?  I keep asking whether he will show up in some back room bar controversy over drugs or women (a.k.a. Mel Gibson) this offseason?

I guess it’s safe to say this gut reaction speaks more about me than Tebow.  At least for Tebow his beliefs seem sincere.   Who am I to criticize them?  Each person has to work out his or her faith, just as I have.  It is not for me to judge.

There are some that say that Tebow is the victim of judgment and persecution for his beliefs.  Most of you know how I feel about that.   I call it Hooey.   He plays a game that most of us cannot even fathom without the vision of broken knees and busted spleens, once we hit the ripe old age of 12 or 13.   Persecution?   Really? I’m not quite sure about that.

Tebow plays a game and he does so with an enormous weekly paycheck and bus loads of sponsors knocking down his door.   It is his faith that adds to the media’s infatuation.  With each article about his faith, with each image of him praying on the sideline, and with each jock reporter condemning his on or off field exploit,  his Madison Avenue value skyrockets.

Do you know who is persecuted for their faith?   The Christian who has to sneak out of their house, in the dead of night, to find some house church to worship in, and once there spends the night scanning the door for the soldiers sure to come; that’s persecution for one’s faith and it occurs all over the globe.   Our faith may challenge us in our workplace, our home, or in our relationships with others, but for most of us its “challenge”, not “persecution”, we face.    Lets remember that.

All in all, the judge, jury, and executioner that is Scott Masters is still out, and I preface the following thoughts with that sentiment front and center.   With all this said, there is one aspect of Tim Tebow that troubles me more than anything else.  Its something that causes me to not be certain if Tebow is good or bad for the faith we profess.

Sometimes his post game comments make me a bit uneasy.  I listen to the sound bites from an after game press conference, and I find myself wondering if he really said what I heard.   Sometimes his comments seem to have the flavor of a theology that is a problem for me.   He seems to almost insinuate that God is the twelfth player in the huddle, and these illogical and unlikely comebacks and his unparalleled gridiron success somehow indicate God’s favor.  He seems to give credit to God hearing and answering all his football prayers.

Does God hear Tim Tebow’s prayers more than he heard the prayers of the third string quarterback from the Colts?   Does God hear his prayers clearer and more directly than the Buffalo Bills fan?   For that matter… what about that man, who when faced with the never ending medical bills of his sick daughter, wagered every last dime on the team the Broncos beat early in the season, and did so with some shady bookie as a last ditch chance to make good?  Are that mans prayers any less real?

I am uncomfortable with some of his comments because it seems to suggest that key to his success, is his relationship to the great big football fan in the sky.   This is a message that stings many who hear it.    Is your relationship with God somehow less valuable, viable, direct, or real because you prayed for that last minute drive in your battle against cancer and ended up losing?   What does that say when good things only happen to Tebow, and it seems you stumble at each corner.

In our weekly Bible Study, we have a rule;  “What happens at Bible Study stays at Bible Study”, but I think there is some lee way or lattitude that is afforded me from time to time.   In those sessions, we have been talking about Moses and the Exodus.  We have talked about Moses approaching the Pharoah and asking for release of the enslaved Jews.   Each time Moses asked, God “hardened the king’s heart.” 

We were, like so many generations before us, troubled by this passage.   We found ourselves talking about free will, and God’s role in the bad things of life.   We talked about the death of a child, and how it shook the core of those who witnessed it.    We wanted answers.   We want to know where is God when it hurts.  We all want to know, why God allows bad things to happen to good people. 

As we ask that question we enter the timeless discussion on theodicy (Pronounced “thee-od-uh-see”), or how do we reconcile the image of the good, loving, and just God in light of all the darkness in the world around us.   How can you or I say that God is love, when cancer rages, madmen kill millions, and children die for lack of clean water?    Could it be that God is just way too busy listening to the Tebows of the world to listen to us?  Could it be that he’s just not there?

Of course not…

Yet in the end, the question torments us.   An entire book of the Bible deals with this very struggle.   We have all heard of the tales of Job, and the contest for his soul between God and the Devil.    He is pushed and pushed to curse God, and despite all manner of evils doesn’t.  Yet he does question him.

There is a point in the story, when Job screams out to God, and asks why me?   Why did the injustice of his situation fall upon him?   In Job we find an answer and it leaves you just as bewildered as before.    God, with that divine finger wagging, points at Job and more or less says “and who the heck are you to question me? The creator of all that is beautiful and right?   Who are you to question a God beyond imagining?”

Echoing the struggles of Job, a  Jewish theologian (Rabbi Wolf Gunther Plaut) commented in response to the question of whether his beloved wife’s death challenged his faith;  “Did I ask Why Me God, when I first met her?   Did I ask Why Me God, after each year we were together?    Did I ask Why Me God, when our children were born, or after the countless joys of our lives?   Of course not.   So why should I ask now.”  

I think about those words, and I ask the same question;  Why should I ask now and not then?   There is incredible joy, love, hope, and beauty before me, and I don’t ask why me, so maybe I shouldn’t ask when the clouds arrive.  Maybe thats part of what I need to learn because Sadly, I do.  I ask all the time.

As I think about it, I think that “asking why” is an integral part of our faith journey.   Its been a question that has been asked for a thousand years.   It was asked in the shadow of Auschwitz, it was asked in the shadow of Haiti, it was asked in the shadow of Katrina, and it is asked again and again and again in hospital beds, offices and living rooms every day.

Although I hesitate to say this, there are countless doubters around us, who rest the entirety of their disbelief solely on their take on this great problem.   In the end, their argument seems almost logical;

  • If God exists, then there is no evil, unless there is a reason that would justify it.
  • Evil exists.
  • There is no reason to justify the atrocities and the evil, so God just doesn’t exist.

You, me, and Tim Tebow, we all believe –rather we know – that God exists.   God is real.   God is in the here and now.    He is as real as that tree outside our window, or that book on our shelf.  Although it may be different for those who are still seeking, we come to church because we know.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.

Because of this reality, we struggle with reconciling the beautiful with the ugly.  There are many theologies that get tossed about as we talk the problem of evil, and the problem of pain.   There is the  The Free Will Model: where theologians preach that God wanted us to freely love him, which meant allowing for the possibility that we might choose against him. Evil, pain, hurt, and injustice is an unfortunate result of our choice and our free will.  If God were to fix all of the mistakes and wrongdoing, our free will would be compromised. Evil, Pain, and hurt is our fault.

There is the Suffering God Model, where theologican assure us that God has not seperated himself from the human situation–that he, too, suffers with us.

God weeps for when his children weep, the Holy Spirit grieves over sin, violence, and pain, and Christ suffered for us that we might have an example of how to undergo and how to make it through the suffering in our own world.

In reality, this response isn’t about justifying why God allows evil, as much as it an affirmation that God stands with us in the middle of it. Some theologians have suggested that God’s suffering teaches us what compassion, hope, and love for others truly looks like.    Some argue that God actually feels the hurt, and through his sacrifice gives us not only an answer but provides purpose and hope from deep within it.

In the end, the theologians argue that evil, pain, and hurt is like a refining fire that makes us all stronger, wiser, and smarter.    It’s akin to the hunger pain.   We eat because we are hungry, and we realize we are hungry because of the pain that springs in our gut.   It is not rare to hear someone claim in the aftermath of a great trial, or after a disease has been cured, that the hurt or the sickness was a blessing in disguise.  That said, I just wouldn’t suggest trying to convince someone of that while they struggle to remain afloat.

They would likely throw something at you, or chase you out of the hospital room.

Lastly we cannot forget those who claim something called a Protest Theodicy; or the argument that because evil exists, God cannot possibly be good.   Although this at first strikes us in the gut like a boxer’s punch, there is something called the Protest Response, where we say to God “From where I sit, you have allowed some pretty horrible things to happen.  I know you are Good, so I ask why.  Why Should you do such a thing?” 

Key to this line of thinking is instead of running away and forgetting or cursing God, the Protest Response to Evil is to wait upon God.  Our response to this situation is to wait for him to make all his reasons clear.   The response is to trust God.  

This is the place I tend to find myself most often.    I have to trust in the God I know and I understand.    I have to trust that at some point – either in this life or the life that follows – God will let me know they why’s.    Because I know he loves me, and I love him so incredibly, I will not walk away.   I will wait.    I am in good company, as this is the same approach we see when we read the Psalms.

Regardless of whatever peculiarities of the mental gymnastics you turn to, to make sense of the pain and hurt, we also must remember that there is an eschatological, or final, hope to the problem of pain.  If there is anything that could provide comfort in those dark times it is that final hope.    It is what reminds us to breathe.

Whatever the reason or whatever the logic, God has promised that evil and suffering is only for a finite time. God will bring indeed end it.   One day evil will be destroyed, and with it there will be no more grief, no more pain, and no more heart break. That is the promise of the cross.   The cross brings perfect peace and justice (or “shalom”) and working for that shalom becomes our obedience and devotion.

In the end, whatever theology you think fits you best, or if you still search madly for your own reconciliation, one truth remains; it will fall catastrophically short when you find yourself in the hospital room or when you need it the most.   When you hear the story of the little girl who is struck down by a car, or the young man who loses a battle to Leukemia, there will be nothing that makes sense.  When you pick up that phone to call me at 3:00am because your world just exploded, there are few words I can offer to make sense of it all.   Maybe together the answer will be some combination of all of the theologies I mention above;

Maybe when the news is bad, we will sit, and know that deep down our God is good, and we will wait for answers together.

Maybe in the fear of a missed curfew or a surgery that takes longer than we expect, we will sit and know that there are lessons for every moment good and bad, and listen for God in our times of fear and hopelessness.

Maybe when our heart feels broken beyond repair, we will sit and know that it wasn’t God that hurt or child or our spouse, but instead the choice of the drunk driver, the polluter, or the broken around us.

Maybe when there is nothing more we can do but cry, we will sit and know that God is with us as in that moment.   God is with us when our hearts break.   God is with us when we lose the things we can’t live without.  God is with when we have forgotten how to breathe.

We will learn to say Why Me God in the good as easily as we scream it in the bad.  We will discover that desire to drop to our knees after a touchdown leads to a prayer as strong as when we can barely keep them from shaking as we stand, or vice versa.

As I close this message, a final reality strikes me.    We are talking about faith, we are working to find its place in our life, we are trying to understand how we walk and talk with God, because a young man choices to kneel.  No matter what I may think of him – or what his critics claim he is – Tim Tebow is several things.

He is a young man who has chosen to kneel on the sideline and thank God.

He is a man that is prompting millions to discuss faith and its intersection in our day to day.

And lastly, although I am overjoyed that my Pats will play for at least one more week, I certainly believe Tim Tebow’s season was a championship one, and Tebow is a champion.

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