Tebow Theology

We may not know yet about the Higgs boson (which is being called the “God particle” for some reason), but if the Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots today—especially with another 4th quarter miracle—it will be positive proof that God does indeed exist.  Or at least that he is a Broncos fan.  The real test of God’s goodness will come when Denver plays the Dallas Cowboys, which, being America’s Team, is obviously God’s team, too.  What will God do?  I predict a tie in overtime.  Followed by a handholding group hug and prayer at the 50-yard line.

Or at least that’s how you’d begin if you merely want to join the journalistic slipstream about the Tim Tebow phenomenon, where being un-ironic is the original sin—maybe the only sin—of the post-modern mind.  You can tell that most of the media’s treatment of Mr. Tebow’s public piety reflects the simple offense at what they view as bad taste.  Don’t you know you’re supposed to keep that all private, man?

You have to look elsewhere—like the Internet!—to get a more serious consideration of Tebow, like Jeff Pojanowski on the Catholic site Patheos.com:

Popular media, more fixated on cultural conflict than actual culture, work to shape the Tebow phenomenon into a stock, religious-versus-secular kabuki production. In this tired morality play—one reminiscent of debate about the “meaning” of Sarah Palin—coastal New Yorker readers, ironists twittering pictures of themselves “Tebowing,” and handwringing strict-separationists are to square off against red-state, religious rubes with persecution complexes.

More than 30 years ago Irving Kristol wrote that theology has practically ceased being an intellectually respectable form of intellectual activity, and the shallow Tebow commentary is another validation of this.  Very few have been the commentaries that begin to treat the more interesting theological questions which Tebow’s public gratitude toward God raise.  Amazingly the media seem to have forgotten the most basic questions of skepticism, such as why a loving God would favor or intercede on behalf of the Broncos while having no regard for the long-suffering Detroit Lions (or are the Lions out of God’s favor for taking the name of the beast that ate so many early Christians?).  More seriously, while Tebow’s gratitude for his God is fitting (as will be his likely Job-like understanding for the inevitable trial of losing), it opens wide the cornerstone of skepticism, the age-old mystery of faith about God’s tolerance for evil: why credit God’s favor for the Broncos while tolerating the suffering of the starving in Darfur, or . . . pick your own example.  That no one in the press corps so eager to highlight and frown upon Tebow’s public piety thinks to raise this issue, which remains basic to the inquiry of so many sincere seekers after spiritual guidance, or ask Tebow for his answer to it, demonstrates how fully secular we have become.

It is unlikely that Tebow would give a very substantive answer involving all the old paradoxes about free will and such; he is likely to be more fully conversant with the intricate details Bronco’s playbook that the Good Book just now, but in any event his best answer would be 1 Corinthians 1:25: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  (That’s the King James; many modern translations render this “God’s nonsense” or “God’s madness” is wiser than men. . .)  Or you can recur to many of C.S. Lewis’s observations that are harmonious with this essential passage, like this one from The Problem of Pain (where he wrested at length with this basic problem): “The relation between Creator and creature, is, of course, unique, and cannot be paralleled by any relations between one creature and another.  God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.”*

My theology is too rusty to do this whole matter justice.  But I will say that over the years I have been frequently stunned to hear the most unlikely people describe their highly unusual paths to Christian faith, which have included Billy Graham crusades and the seemingly crazy street corner preachers who mostly annoy the passers-by.  I make it a point, on the rare occasions I happen upon a street corner preacher, to look around the crowd to spot the one or two people who appear to be listening intently.  You can usually spot them.

So Tebow may be the NFL version of the lay street corner preacher, violating all the conventions of good taste and embarrassing even many of his fellow believers, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

*If you’re theologically astute you may pick up on Lewis’s harmony with Karl Barth, one of the pre-eminent Protestant theologians of the 20th century, but I have to confess to never having mastered much of Barth’s rich teaching beyond his basic quarrel with Thomistic theology.  But Lewis has sometimes been made out to be a crypto-Roman Catholic.  Not too sure about this.

**Hey–does this count as a sports post? [Yes.–JHH]

JOHN adds two observations: First, while perhaps not all Bronco fans are equally scrupulous, Tebow consistently says that God doesn’t care who wins a football game, and he neither seeks nor claims divine intervention. Second, while Tebow might not be a great passer, the evidence suggests that he is a great leader. Those in more important leadership positions might observe Tebow and learn from his example.

Suppose, for instance, you are an important political figure–head of the executive branch, even–and your leadership style includes:

* Going on vacation while your teammates (i.e., fellow citizens) are hard at work;
* Stirring up division among your teammates in hopes that it will improve your standing;
* Suggesting that you are highly superior, but your teammates are dumb, lazy and bigoted, and on the whole not good enough for you;
* Acting remote and aloof whenever your team falls behind in the score;
* When your team loses, pointing your finger at everyone but yourself, including players who haven’t been on the team for years; and
* Running the same plays over and over again, even though they are stopped for no gain, and then, rather than trying something different, attempting to convince your teammates that what you are doing is working great, as though they can’t see the scoreboard.

If you are a politician and this describes your management style, you should pay close attention to a leader like Tim Tebow. You might learn something.

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