“That’s SO cute!”
So said my roommate when I mentioned that I wanted to send a letter to Tim Tebow.
Turns out, American celebrities pay people to read their fan mail. Who knew?
In the angst of having absolutely no way to contact the man, I turned naturally to the one place where I have an entirely open forum to do and say whatever the heck I want.
And so we find ourselves here. My blog. My rules.
You’ve been on my radar for a long time; I started following college football during your last season, and as a fellow Christian and a bizarre sort of halfback/quarterback hybrid with some distinct tight end tendencies, you naturally drew my attention. I followed you through the draft, through your first season, and straight into the eye of Tebowmania.
As a result of the past few years and our shared faith, I feel unwarrantedly and perhaps creepily protective of you; as I’ve watched Tebowmania blow up beyond all reasonable proportions, I have to confess that I’m terrified for you. There is no way a person who follows the Lord can become as popular as you are without finding himself directly in Satan’s cross-hairs. Yes, you’re ‘just’ a football player, as opposed to a more official ministry position, but to America, you’ve become much more. You’re a sort of icon to people; I honestly think one of the reasons you’re so popular is that many American Christians are so insecure about their faith that they need someone to make it ‘cool.’ And you fit the bill perfectly–non-Christians respect you, you have big biceps, and you wear hipster-style hats. Consider it done; you’re the next big thing in Christianity, the modern peg upon which Christians can hang their identity–because Jesus is so BC Era. (Incidentally, in choosing you as our next Christian spokesperson, we’ve also creatively managed to streamline our worship process. How convenient that the man who espouses the God we worship happens to play the sport we cancel Sunday services to watch. This way, we can enjoy a guilt-free football/worship experience: after all, God is somehow involved in the sport now, right? Well played, people-clearly-still-being-sanctified. Well played).
Sorry, Tim; this message is for you, not your fans; I just wish we (myself included) were more cautious about the degree of awe and reverence we accord mere humans. Back to regularly scheduled programming: You, brother, are in a tough place. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work out your faith in the face of something that smacks pretty blatantly of worship. I don’t fault you for being worshiped, and ultimately, I don’t think the Christians who over-adore you are worshiping you, per se. We’re worshiping the opportunity to align ourselves with something that makes us feel valuable, unique, special. We’re worshiping the hope of being cool; in uplifting you, we’re just looking for a way to uplift ourselves*. You’re a convenient conduit to that self-worship, which is unfortunate and disrespectful, both to you and to God (who, frankly, neither needs nor has much use for ‘cool’).
All this to say, Tim, you’re facing an overwhelming number of pitfalls and hardships, among them:
1) You’ll lose your faith and/or your witness. You’re in a prime position to face daily temptation, and Tim, make no mistake about it; Satan is after you. I mean, he wants to take us all down, but right now, you’re pretty high on his list. He’ll do whatever it takes, be it sex scandal, drug addiction, or merely weariness-leading-to-practical-atheism. He hates you. Don’t lose sight of the evil lurking behind every temptation. (Even as I write this, I’m being convicted of my concern that God’s reputation will be damaged should you fall; I think in the insanity of Tebowmania, I’ve started to lose sight of the fact that your reputation and God’s are not one, and that God’s purposes will not be curtailed should you fall. While I am hopeful that your reputation will remain unsullied, I realize that God is not bound by our slowly-sanctified efforts to improve the world. Shame on me for placing the accomplishment of His plans squarely on your shoulders, as if He needs you to develop His street cred.)
2) You’ll become prideful and therefore impotent for God’s purposes. This concerns me more than the former option. Every time I hear about you, read about you, etc., I pray that this will not be the case, and I hope you are surrounded by people who are praying daily against this. I can’t imagine how easy it would be to go in the direction, subtly and without even realizing it. I’m sure this is something you’ve thought of, but the more I live, the more I realize how many forms pride can take, and how marrow-deep it really is in us. Please don’t go this route; it would be so easy to slip through the cracks. While Christians destroy role models who engage in obvious sins, we don’t typically look closely enough to recognize pride, and humility is awfully easy to fake. Keep in mind that to the people who don’t know you personally, you’re a non-entity, a means to achieving their own emotional, feel-good ends. That sounds harsh, and I’m not saying it to degrade or devalue you so much as to draw a distinction between Tim, the incredibly valuable child of God, and Tim Tebow, the fan-made image of Messianic perfection. I just want you to be able to have a good grasp of who, exactly, (and WHOSE, exactly!) you are. Ignore the image. Ignore the hype. That’s all smoke and mirrors. I know you didn’t design or create it, but by nature of your position, you’ll face it constantly.
3) You WILL suffer. Suffering is an inevitability for any Christian. Well, for any person, really, but you, my friend, are in a prime position for it. One of the hardest truths of Christianity is that we are called to be living sacrifices, and sometimes that sacrifice is played out on a public stage for God’s glory. There’s a possibility that you, in your current position, will suffer, and suffer greatly. I don’t mean suffering like people writing mean things about you on the Internet. I mean ‘real’, gut-deep, teeth-set-on-edge suffering. Loss of family. Loss of career. Withdrawal of any and all of God’s most obvious blessings. I don’t know what form it will take, or the degree to which it will happen but you may be someone who, by your very prominence, is marked for grief. Honestly, I’d rather see you suffer than not, because it would show that you’re walking with God, that He’s disciplining you as a child, that you’re seeking and submitting to His purposes. But it’s one thing to talk about suffering, and another to live it. Figure out your theology of suffering and your response to it now, baby. You dare to keep your faith, and it will only be a matter of time.
Ultimately, Tim, I think I’m trying to say that while I very much respect you and I’m appreciative of the position God has put you in, I find myself leery of the position Christians put you in. You’re a man; a sinner, redeemed, a man in process, perhaps someone who is a little farther along in the process than the rest of us, but a man nontheless.
Let God use you, but don’t ever confuse His use of you with a need for you. He doesn’t need you, or me, or anyone. Don’t trust fame. The second you don’t fit a fan’s preconceived notion of who you should be or even how you should play, that person will move on. Don’t trust success. God doesn’t measure success the way we do, not even spiritually speaking. If people come to know God through you, that’s great; but don’t gauge the ‘success’ of your relationship with God with the impact it has on other people.
At the end of the day, Tim, please just try to be like Enoch, so that whether you lose your job, fame, and sense of identity tomorrow, or end up playing until even Brett Favre begs you to retire, your life can be summed up in the statement, ‘He walked with God.’
I do, and will continue to, pray for you.
*I know I’m going to get a ton of flack from defensive Tebow-lovers who merely admire the man, without ‘worshiping’ him. And that’s fine; if that boot fits, wear it. But my challenge to every Tebow-follower is to do a quick assessment of what, exactly, you’re expecting (dare I say demanding?) of him. Can you handle Tim as a fallen human, rather than as ‘Tim Tebow, The Great Hope of Cool Christianity’? If and when he messes up in the public eye, will you be able to graciously call him on it, without either going over the top in condemnation or changing the definition of sin to give him a pass? Do you secretly feel a little bit smug about Tim’s against-all-odds success when you’re around non-Christians? God can use Tim’s success, and God can use Tim’s failure. If Tim publicly walks away from the faith today, God’s purposes will not be harmed. Support and admire the man, by all means, but be very cautious not to place him in a godlike role he is neither designed nor intending to fill.