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

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • pianogirl88

    I heard this morning that the number of google hits on John 3:16 (since the game yesterday) are in the millions. And that’s a good thing!

  • http://ycrcm.blogspot.com/ Young Canadian RC Male

    Hello Anchoress, Welcome back from Vacation.

    You know, just perhaps God and/or Christ does reward us greatly when we do what Luke 12:8 asks, but also what Christs indicates we do to show his Love to others in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. As much as we are supposed to keep our good deeds in secret, this reminds me of an event two months ago, and it makes me think that some things are not consequential. I’ll relate a story on this account.

    I was going to my old high school for its 10 year anniversary (A private Roman Catholic high school) in November, and on my way, a young man around my age range (mid-late) 20s approached me for some money. I did give him a generous amount, enough for a whole pizza meal/combo he was seeking for two with his girlfriend and some leftover to boot. Before I left, I told him there’s still some people left in this world who love truly, which spurred on a conversation about his past and his struggle to immigrate and find work in Canada. I found out he was also a fully initiated Catholic who even had participated in some parish activities back in his home country. We departed with a prayer of Our Father, and I’ve kept this man in my prayers to this day, be it name or general “all those I pray for”.

    So what happened when I arrived at the school? I got to see 1/4 of my 180 member class there, every moment was enjoyable, and the kicker? I won a high stakes round of blackjack against a former of teacher (+$20) and also happened to win a limited raffle fundraiser giving me a desk safe, 2 chickens, and a few hundred dollars more. I still wonder to this day, though it was but 2 months ago. I realize that our greater prayers if they are His will, tend to get revealed in long bursts of time after the first request. Just perhaps though, He throws us little “bones” in the meantime when we do His work.

    So Anchoress, I don’t think “Tebowing” is just a fad. Perhaps Christ is working through him and showing us a message. Personally though, I wish other NFL players, especially the Catholic ones, would also pray after their touchdowns to Christ.

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ EBL
  • http://www.holywriting.blogspot.com sharon

    A wise post.Recently, after struggling with a painful family situation,I finally thanked God for it,a first in my life ,and now I do feel that peace.When I finally said the words, my soul was comforted by a real deep knowing that all is in His loving hands.

  • CV

    Well of course we Steelers fans here in the ‘Burgh are asking, why did God abandon us on Sunday!?

    I guess it’s a matter of perspective ;-)

  • Andy

    There are many athletes who attribute their abilities, wins, and successes to God, I don’t see anything different about Tebow. My fear is that with all the scrutiny he is receiving, both from those who support his Christian beliefs and those who question them will lead to a disappointment for all concerned. He is a human being, subject to temptations, and given many strengths and weaknesses. For the record I am a Bills fan and was pleased when the Bills beat the Broncos, not because Tebow is a Christian, but because I support the Bills (My two daughters thought it was an early Christmas present, as the entire family is made up of Bills fans, I know it is pathetic, but…).
    I wish for his sake though that all would leave him alone and let him develop as a NFL quarterback and person, and give him support as he makes his faith journey.

  • Diane

    Anchoress, I love today’s posts!! I was all set to link them to our Parish facebook page, when lo and behold I noticed an ad for a “Roman Orgy” on your page!!

    [I'll look into that ad, thanks for the heads up -admin]

  • http://www.rockportconservatives.com/ Ruth H

    I find this a wonderful post. I am not a football fan but I have an old friend in Florida who explained Tebow to me. She loves him and his message as well as his great ability.
    What I find interesting is that man has translated and written the Bible in many different ways yet this comes out so wonderfully full of a message using the verses as man (we like to think) has written and labeled them. John 3:16 could just as well have turned out to be John 10:30 or whatever, yet this message comes to us through it.
    I think the nay sayers are frightened by it. And they should be.

  • Richard Johnson

    CV, I think the answer is clear on that. God favors the Evangelicals over the Orthodox. Why else would God bless the efforts of Tim Tebow (an Evangelical Christian) and not those of Troy Polamalu (an Orthodox Christian). Both men are devout, and very vocal about their faith while on the field. Both men pray continually, even as they line up for the play. And both men have off-field behavior that gives credence to their on-field piety.

    As the results of the game this weekend show clearly, God favors the Evangelical position over the Orthodox. Why else would we see Tebow’s miraculous throw couple with his Biblical-relevant statistics?

  • http://yahoo betty warren

    Im very proud of tebow, Ive never watch football, cause all you here is something bad everytime you ture the tv on. And when i heard of Tebow, it makes me proud of being an american, and proud theres a person, thats not scared to let the public know . Whats the real team he`s on. Football is a job . But Tebow nows where his true treasure is going to be. and he`s not ashame to let you now. And, cause of that , it`s just made me a bronco fan. For i pray for Tebow that he only become more succesful in his career.

  • Greg Harvey

    Anchoress, I want you to know that Tim does give thanks even after a defeat. All he wants is to be able to walk the path that Jesus has laid out for him. I cannot speck for other people but what Tim has taught me is to keep your faith even if you loose 3 games in a row and give thanks no matter what. Because in the long run your just doing what God ask’s of you. Win or loose next week I know Tim will always keep giving God thanks as we all should in our every day life.

  • Todd von Kampen

    I’m reminded of the letter that Eric Liddell, who refused to run the 100 meters on a Sunday in the 1924 Olympics and wound up competing — and winning — the 400 meters, read from American runner Jackson Scholtz in the movie “Chariots of Fire”: “It says in the Old Book: ‘He who honors Me, I will honor.’” I certainly don’t believe that God cares who wins sports contests. He does command us to “love one another as I have loved you,” which of course means to love our fellow human beings with brotherly (filios) and agape (self-sacrificial) love. When that attitude spreads on a sports team, or any team, that’s when overachievement is possible. That seems to be happening with Tebow’s Broncos. The best leadership — the most effective leadership — is servant leadership. That’s what God is honoring, I think — not by divine intervention on a pass play but because we are most blessed as humans when we love as He loves.

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  • http://amongwomenpodcast.blogspot.com/ Pat Gohn

    Welcome Back!
    Nice well-balanced post.

    BTW, the link for Barbara Curtis’ post is broken.

    [Thanks for the catch, Pat - that link has given me trouble all day! Thought I had it fixed. -admin]

  • Joseph

    God works in mysterious ways, so who’s to say whether or not this was just a coincidence?

    P.S. Not to nitpick, but Edward G. Robinson was Dathan (assuming you’re referring to “The Ten Commandments”).

    [Thanks. I only have a vague memory of the film, but I remember Robinson making an impression on my young mind! -admin]

  • ChristiansAgainstNike

    Tim Tebow likes to sign GB²
    He profits off promoting GOD and promoting the pagan GODDESS NIKE!
    GOD hates all other gods and goddesses… and is NOT happy with Tim Tebow
    for honoring the name of the pagan goddess NIKE!!!

  • http://proneooze.blogspot.com/ James Bryant

    I am a huge Tebow and Broncos fan. I am really excited to see someone who is public about their faith without being a jerk about it. I was very glad they won whether it was an answer to prayer or just football. I very much enjoyed reading your article and I learned something new I had never read Luke 12:8 quite that way before. It encourages me to be more vocal about my faith. Thanks.

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  • EJCM

    All this commotion while quietly the world’s greatest footballer, er soccer player, blesses himself after every goal.

  • Scotty Ellis


    Your website and comments are either a satirical jab at hypersensitive fundamentalist Christians (in which case, a tip of the hat to you) or are indeed sincere, in which case I also assume you never watch the Olympics, you don’t teach you children about the planets of the solar system, you have alternate names for all the days of the week, and you don’t drive a Mercury or live in any city named Athens.

    The Anchoress:

    While I am not opposed in principle to the idea that God might send a message through football statistics, I take the much more conservative approach that He generally leaves the natural order alone and that the statistics you mentioned are probably coincidental (in the sense of being unexpected results of natural laws and interactions). That said, I would think that the more important testimony of Christ is Tebow himself: his actions, his faith (in victory or defeat), and his willingness to make those public. Compared to these, hidden numbers games in statistics suddenly seem a very…trivial method of revelation. And some of the other commentators are correct that there may be unintended side effects to believing that God is controlling the scores: what do we do with the Bronco’s failures, with games that have no statistical anomalies, or games in which statistical anomalies would seem to run counter to the faith or even support contradictory faiths or viewpoints?

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  • Tom B

    Personally I doubt that God is taking sides in a football game, BUT
    IF He is, I suspect the most pertinent passage is Gal 6:7 -
    “God is not mocked”.
    Maybe not Tebow’s faith so much as the mockery it’s received is the issue.

  • Peggy

    As much as I would like to believe that those 316 yards were something more than coincidence, I can’t quite buy in having learned from sad experience.

    I am a die-hard Washington Redskins fan. A few years back we were absolutely grief stricken over the loss of Sean Taylor (still not over it. nope.) At the time, I remember people were seeing the number 21 everywhere. Some were taking it as proof that Sean was still with us, a comforting thought. Some took it that God was with us in our sadness, an even more comforting thought. Most of us probably harbored a secret thought in our hearts of the Hollywood ending. That out of the darkness would come joy to ease our grief and sadness. The Redskins would storm all the way to the Super Bowl and win one for Sean and our hearts would start to mend.

    I realize it sounds silly but that is what grief does. We were grieving over the senseless loss of a talented young man who was also working hard to be a good man and a good father after some early mistakes. And we might have gotten a little silly looking for that silver lining.

    Sooo we, miraculously you might say, make it to the playoffs. We even win a game! Then we met up with the Seahawks and they whupped us up one side and down the other. The difference between the final scores, ours and theirs, was 21 points.

    I’ve always wondered what Joe Gibbs, a strong believer, thought of that final score. He seemed to stare at the score board for a long time.

    In the end, I think that if there was any message there for us to discern, it wasn’t what we were expecting. It was more like a wake up call to get real.

    So I am not going to get too excited about Tebow. I am certainly rooting for him and his team. He is a good kid by all accounts. It would be wonderful for him to take the knee after winning the Super Bowl. But he could just as easily flame out before getting there. Will we see the message to be learned if that happens?

  • jpelham

    Yes, who can know the ultimate significance, so let us leave it to the One who does. And let me gently encourage you to consider that one who is bold enough to suggest the possibility of a “puckish” God certainly betrays little fear of Him.

    [I loves God. He knows it. I prostrate myself before in trembling awe and tell him I love him and beg his mercy. Otherwise, I think I'm kind of Scout to his Atticus Finch. He knows I do my best and doesn't mind me, so much. -admin]

  • Larry

    One more point or two. He threw for 316 yards (1)
    The nielson rating for the overtime portion of the game was 31.6 (2)
    Add the completion rate 31.6 (3)

    If we follow the Hebrew logic of language that is a Superlative.

    Yeah it could all be a coincidence–jist like all creation. Does the Lord have to hit you over the head with a 2×4?

  • http://lucemichael.wordpress.com luce

    Leave it to you, Anchoress to go beyond the superficial Tebow-mania to remind us of the “mysterious unknowable” nature of God’s work in our lives. I hope that my prayer life becomes more contemplative and receptive as I mature. Gone be the days of “I want a pony” and “Please help me win this game” types of praying.

  • jy

    CV, you needn’t look far for the answer to your question: he lines up under center.

  • Susan

    Say what you will about the Broncos and Tim Tebow but my 17-year-old son, who has hit the prime age for questioning his faith, is mightily impressed. The kid is impressed by Tim’s relentless positivity in the face of criticism and humble faith in God and willingness to show his faith in public. Very impressed. So much so that he has become much more willing to join family prayers and never balks at going to Mass anymore.

    So what does this have to do with whether or not Tebow wins, loses, draws, etc? Everything. I am quite sure that the God would be willing to engineer this whole spectacle if that it what it took to save the soul of a single teenage boy.

    In fact, it’s just the sort of thing He would do. Because He can. And because He cares that much about each one of us. Whatever it takes.

    The question is, to what lengths do we make God go, just to save us? And are we willing to co-operate when He calls us to be the instrument of His will? Will we consent to be someone’s Tim Tebow, not for our glory but to allow someone else to catch a glimpse of God’s glory?

  • Trudy

    I was taught there was no such thing as coincidence….God is involved in all aspects of our lives. Anyway, I am a life-long Cleveland Browns fan SO anyone that beats the Steelers makes me happy! Great town-Pittsburg-but i’ve livedin Cleveland all my life (70 yrs) and this rivalry has been going on since before Super Bowl One! Pittsburgh has been Te-bowed!!!! BTW great article, Anchoress.


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