Football fan or not, you’ve likely heard of Denver Bronco's quarterback Tim Tebow in recent months. If not, well, you probably have this week!
Tebow, outspoken about his Christian faith, has endured criticism for being too outspoken about his beliefs. Add to that one of the worst seasons for a quarterback in NFL history and it’s no wonder many people remain miffed at the attention Tebow gets. He’s got two things going against him: public faith and mediocre ability (supposedly).
But there is one thing in sports culture that cuts through religion and athletic ability: winning!
Again and again, Tebow has proved he’s a winner. And so he won’t go away.
Usually, in the face of such winning, criticism would fade away. Not so for Tebow.
You see, there is the suggestion that Tebow gets his success directly from God - for some serious, for others a joke. Kneeling to pray at every opportunity, wearing “3:16” eye strips, and “thanking the Lord” in every interview can leave the impression that Tebow’s thinks his religion leads to his victory. In a culture as secular as ours, it’s not surprising people find this ridiculous. I know I do. We all know God doesn’t have have a favorite team.
But after this past Sunday’s game, the Tebow saga has become almost comical. Tebow threw for 316 yards and a 31.6 yard average in Sunday’s dramatic victory. It’s like God is gloating! Maybe Tebow is God’s quarterback! (just google “Tebow god” to see what I mean for this line of thinking). I find it all quite amusing to watch how people react.
But cut through the polarizing hype and there is a lesson here.
First, we need to concede that Tim Tebow is God’s quarterback. But then, so is Ben Roethlisberger. And Tom Brady. And Drew Brees. And the back-up no one knows. Before Tebow’s favorite verse says “whoever believes in him” it says “for God so loved the world" (Jn 3:16). Christians, and perhaps even Tebow himself, revel in the fact they are the “whoever” - they are “in” with God. But such a view, far from the interests of NFL football, skips the most important part: God loves all.
But that’s not controversial. That’s not newsworthy. That’s maybe even offensive to some who prefer Tebow’s public displays of piety over the struggles of someone like Ben Roethlisberger. I mean, really, how do we pick sides if God loves everyone? Who’s the hero? We want winners and losers. Sports gives us that. And for many, religion does to. Doesn't God want winners?
But God plays by different rules. Winning isn’t a competition, but a gift - a gift of love for all. And we don’t accept this gift - become part of the “whoever believes” - because we are winners, or spiritually mature, or a limited group of special recipients of God’s favor. That just makes choosing God a competition. Faith isn’t football. No, accepting God’s love means realizing love is at the core of being human - to love and be loved in all we do. We can't compete for such love. No, with the gift of God's love, we can all be winners, Tim Tebow and all.