Tim Tebow, Faith, and Football

January 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm Leave a comment

Tim Tebow

It was a tough Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Orthodox Church.

Tim Tebow is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos and the most visible evangelical Christian among NFL players. He’s been known to jog onto the field from the sideline singing the worship chorus, “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High.” Troy Polamalu is a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers and perhaps the most visible Orthodox Christian in the NFL. He makes the sign of the cross after every play. On Sunday, January 8, Tim Tebow made an 80-yard pass play on the first snap of overtime, leading his Broncos to an incredibly dramatic victory over Polamalu and the Steelers.

So what are we to take from this? Should all Orthodox convert to evangelical Protestantism? Does Tim simply pray better than Troy? Is God punishing Troy for publicly attributing his incredibly Samson-like voluminous hair to Head and Shoulders shampoo product instead of giving the glory to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Simply put, does faith help Tim Tebow, or anyone else, win football games?

My answer is twofold. Firstly and most importantly, definitely not. Secondly, yeah, kinda.

It all depends on how you define faith. Most Americans believe that if you believe hard enough, good things are bound to happen to you. For example, if you believe hard enough that such-and-such a number is destined to win the lottery, it will. If it doesn’t, you didn’t believe hard enough or something else was wrong. Such people continue to waste hard-earned dollars on the lottery and/or sleep with the textbook under their pillow the night before the test, or even pray for a snowstorm or a credit-card offer to show up in the mail.

However, faith in the biblical sense is most succinctly defined as ‘trust in God’s promises.’ Hebrews 11:1 says ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” However the writer of Hebrews was not thinking of a football win, or even for everything to go well in his life – rather, the hope the writer had in mind was the victory of Jesus Christ over the powers of evil, sin, and death. At least in my translation of the Bible, God never promised the Broncos would win the Super Bowl (or even make it through Foxboro next week).

God did, however, promise that human beings are justified or made righteous before God as a free gift through Jesus Christ (Augsburg Confession, Article IV), and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8). We can only grasp that promise by faith. That’s a biblical faith, which clings to God’s Word.

So faith doesn’t help Tim Tebow, or Troy Polamalu (who is the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings, by the way) win football games. Their faith grasps the promises of God in Jesus. Alternately, we can put our faith in other promising agents who may be more or less trustworthy.

Troy Polamalu (on left). Troy, repeat after me: "For my hair, I want to give all the glory to my Lord and Savior."

That’s the “definitely not” answer. Now, what about the “yeah, kinda?” Well, both Tim and Troy are team players in both football and life (both are heavily involved in their communities and in charities). They strive to develop their abilities to the fullest. They lift up the people around them by their attitudes. They have confidence in their own abilities and act out of that confidence. This helps them to succeed at football and in life.

Now presumably all that comes from their faith. But it’s important to note that this by itself does not win football games. The other guy might just simply play a better game. Furthermore, one can have all of these attitudes and behaviors with a different religious faith or no faith at all.

A person without the first kind of biblical faith might win more football games, but might not see a deeper meaning in life than football. There are also those athletes who truly believe that their success is due to God and others fail because they don’t give God the glory. That almost sounds more like a faith in the ancient Greek gods (Athena, grant me victory over my enemies).

But I don’t think that Tim and Troy are these kinds of athletes. I believe that they do see a deeper meaning in life, that they are living out of that biblical faith. For them football, win or lose, is part of life, but a part that allows them a contribution that is greater than football to the lives of others.

In the same NFL ‘Sound FX’ show where I heard Tebow singing “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High,” the mic also caught him praying something like, “Lord, win or lose, may your name be glorified.” That to me is not a selfish prayer for simple victory, but an integration of faith and life.

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