Tim Tebow: Luke 12:8 or 1 Thess 5:18?

I must admit, I got a mild kick out of this bit on the statistics of yesterday’s Bronco game:

It’s surely all coincidence, but how many yards did Tebow throw for as he led the Denver Broncos to a 29-23 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL’s divisional playoffs on Sunday night?

Answer: 316.

And what did Tebow have on his eye black as he led the Florida Gators to victory in the 2009 national championship game three years ago to the day of his performance in Denver Sunday night?

Here is another one: Tebow completed 10 passes on 21 attempts Sunday. What was his average yards per pass completion?

Answer: 31.6.

And what did Tebow have on his eye black as he led the Florida Gators to victory in the 2009 national championship game three years ago to the day of his performance in Denver Sunday night?

Answer: John 3:16. [“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”]

Heh. I have always loved God’s sense of humor.

But honestly, who knows whether the whole 316-3:16 thing is God (or his angels) feeling puckish, or it’s all a giant and fun co-incidence or there is not-so-subtle reference to Luke 12:8 at play:

I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.

No one can possibly know if the freakish numbers accompanying yesterday’s game actually mean anything. Is it God being reassuring? Crafty leprechauns out to distract us from what is more important? Perhaps the numbers game is the underworld distorting issues of faith and prayer; perhaps it is the unwitting result of a collective-consciousness obsession.

Everyone will believe what they like, and we’re all free to. I tend to come down on the story somewhere between Shakespeare and a cockney philosopher: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in your philosophy, Horatio, and it’s a funny ol’ world, ain’t it?

Father James Martin, asked the question by the WaPo, goes full-Jesuit on the story:

All this raises the inevitable question, and one that I’ve been asked numerous times over the last few months: Is God answering Tim Tebow’s prayers?

Well, in good Jesuitical fashion the answer is: Yes, no, and I don’t know.

He’s right on all counts: yes, God is hearing and answering Tebow’s prayers, because he hears and answers all of our prayers. No, we cannot possibly understand what the answer really is, and being a public Christian is not a freepass to success, and who can know the mind of God, anyway?

Lost in all of this is the simple truth that a person’s relationship with God, no matter how publicly lived, is still profoundly personal and deeply, mysteriously unknowable.

I suspect Tebow, when he prays during a game, is praying “thy will be done” and “praise be to you”, and any contemplative will tell you that these simple prayers, when prayed regularly and heartfully before the start and end of every activity, become profound and intimate interactions.

But to many–perhaps to most–Tebow’s actions are interpreted to be little more than “God, help me complete this pass” and “Hey, thanks for the completed pass!” and, as Fr. Martin suggests, that view can easily mislead and distort the reality of Tebow’s faith and the whole point of the life of faith, in general. This is why I rather dislike the intense interest in Tebow and God and Answered Prayers: I think it is helping to put a very shallow spin on a practice of true depth.

Our answered prayers often confuse us; sometimes we wonder if we really wanted what we ended up with. In truth, the answer to our prayers is always–in the long run–an affirmative, but often it can seem like “no,” and either way, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told to “give thanks in all circumstances,” — a tall order that, with obedience, can bring great peace and a deepening of joy, at least in my experience, and I’ll bet in yours, too.

Giving thanks for what we perceive to be a “no” is the perspective-changer that helps us understand the hidden “yes.” One of the oddest prayers I ever uttered concerned a deeply painful loss. Thanking God for the brief joy, the loss, the experience of pain, the understanding that I really was feeling pain, and finally the acknowledgement of my helplessness before any of it ended up leading me where I never thought I could be. The answer had been a “yes”, all along, if only I’d been willing to see it.

Some, particularly ardent Christians who are feeling put-upon by an increasingly faith-hostile media, are hoping and praying that this drama ends with the Broncos winning the Super Bowl and Tebow taking a knee in triumph; winning one for God and his people, just like Moses! One imagines them breaking out the tambourines and sing “our God is an awesome God…”

Others, particularly the folks who are terrified by Tebow and all of this religious stuff, would probably enjoy precisely the opposite; they’d like to see Tebow taken all the way to the gates of football paradise and then denied his entrance, so they can jeer jeer along the lines of Edward G. Robinson’s infamous Pharaoh, “yah, yah, how do you like yer Moses, now?”

What if this prayer-and-numbers drama concludes with Tebow at the Super Bowl, defeated by one point, or ten, still taking a knee in Thanksgiving?

And what if — after John 3:16 and Luke 12:8 — 1 Thess 5:18 has been the point of all of this, all along? A means by which we may be taught the power of giving thanks, in all circumstances, and finding our victories right smack in the center of what the world perceives to be defeat?

The Holy Spirit, after all, is free to use any available tool to teach us what we need to learn, and in God’s perfect time.

Okay, I’m done Teblo-viating!

Related (both via New Advent)
Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion: God Bless and Go Broncs!

Barbara Curtis on how Tebow is changing football for women

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About Elizabeth Scalia