Tim Tebow, the outspoken young quarterback of the Denver Broncos, is the talk of the nation: He has won six out of his last seven games, several in spectacular fashion. Yet, because of his overt faith, many in the media seem to relish his every mistake with more than a tinge of anti-Christian malice. Other players criticize and scoff at him: Two Detroit Lions players recently knelt in mockery of him during a game, one after sacking Tebow for a loss and the other after scoring a touchdown. Comments and behavior like this have outraged men and women of faith across the nation. To many Christians, Tebow is a public hero who strives against intolerance of their beliefs.
I would defend Tebow in the face of secularist attacks and criticisms, but I still have lingering questions about the appropriateness of his actions. Take this example: Only moments after his dramatic come-from-behind win against the New York Jets in November, Tebow sat down with NFL commentators. The interviewer asked, “what comes over you with five minutes to go?” Tebow responded, “Well, first and foremost, I gotta thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and thank my team mates . . . ” Should Tebow tone this kind of answer down?
Perhaps Tebow should not talk and act as if every win and success is almost miraculous, as if God’s intervention is the primary cause of it. Such talk might obscure the fullness of the truth by hiding other contributing factors. God is the cause of all things and our natural order. He intervenes in his natural order as he sees fit; we call these “super” natural interventions miracles. Throwing a football is probably not, then, supernatural or miraculous at all, and neither is winning a football game. If we were to thank God exclusively after either, we may be obscuring the fact that God enabled his creation—the natural rather than supernatural order—to accomplish his will for itself. He gave Tebow his teammates, his parents, the cheering fans, his coach, etc., so that he could succeed. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for Tebow to recognize and thank these people and causes first.
But, ultimately, I think this point is mostly a quibble. Tebow does always thank his teammates and his coach publicly, and I don’t think he is even implicitly claiming that his football wins are caused by supernatural intervention. He is merely giving praise where he thinks praise is due. Instead, I think many Christians—myself included—feel uneasy about Tebow’s professions of faith in public because we suspect that in the same situation, we would keep our faith private. Why, we ask, should Tebow be so vocal?
Such questions fail to recognize the nature of personal vocations and of belief in a God who has a unique plan for each of us. We each have a tailor-made vocation, not an ill-fitting suit, handed out to all Christians. We may be a priest, preacher, or a quiet family man, but if we seek truth and follow the will of God for our lives, we should feel neither shame nor judgment when we note a difference between our calling and that of another. Christian lives should be notable for their pluralism.
So, although Tebow’s prime time confessional style may not be “normal” for most Christians, I am convinced that it is authentic for him. He seems to be genuinely in love with Christ. He compares his professions of faith in Jesus to a husband’s expression of love for his wife every day, in public or in private. And like a good spouse, he works as hard as he can in everything out of love.
As early as high school, Tebow was known for playing every minute as if it were the last in the game, striving for extra yardage on every play. He still trains harder than anyone else. In his recent documentary, “Everything in Between,” he asks every day, “Was I the hardest worker in the country?” Despite all this hard work, he is far from dominant in his sport. He shows his flaws on every missed throw and every crushing hit he takes but through it all finds a way, some way, to win fair and square.
On top of his busy football career, Tebow is out in the world preaching at prisons, doing mission work with his family, starting a hospital in the Philippines, and trying hard to lead a virtuous life. In a recent interview, Broncos receiver Eddie Royal summed him up well: “[Tebow] really is genuine and the emotion and the passion that you see him out there playing with, he has the same passion off the field with those type of things, the charity things and the missionary things. He just lives that way. Like I said, there’s nothing fake about Tim Tebow.”
All people of faith can find inspiration in his example. We can wholly support the gallant and authentic vocation that Tebow has discerned for himself even if it is very different from our own. He will be the hardest worker in the NFL for the glory of God. He will be a prayerful man, on and off the field. And he will use every camera that turns his way to loudly proclaim his trust in the God of the Bible, no matter the criticism he faces.
Thomas Haine is a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on educational delay and a law student at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
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