Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tim Tebow's God

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Luke 11:1
The Tim Tebow debate continues.

An extraordinary number of people are offended by his public piety. I am not a big fan of public piety. And, as I have said before, I doubt that I would agree with him on theology or social issues. But I am much more concerned about the language of the debate, which reveals that a large number of supposedly educated people don’t know very much about Christian theology.

A common statement from Tebow’s “defenders” is that he has every right to “pray to his God.”

It sounds like Tebow is praying to his personal Lares and Penates, the Roman household gods who protected hearth and home. Every Roman family had its own guardian deity, called the Lar familiaris to protect them. Statues were placed on the table at meal times and special family events, and kept in a sacred family shrine. The gods were convenient, portable, dependable, and uncomplicated.

Does it matter? I think it matters a lot.

Consider the difference in these two statements:
Tim Tebow has every right to pray.
Tim Tebow has every right to pray to his God.
Isn’t the second statement more limited?

Matthew says that Jesus went up to the mountain alone to pray. He didn’t pray “to his God.” He just prayed. And the same is true for us. We just pray.

Of course, we pray to God, but we don’t pray to our own personal “god.” (Okay, some people really do pray to their own personal “gods,” but that’s not considered a Christian practice.)

When Jesus instructs his disciples to say, “Our Father,” it is a universal reference. It does not limit God, but expands our understanding. We are all sisters and brothers. When the prophet Micah says what the Lord requires, “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” it is a universal reference. The point is not that God belongs to us, but that we belong to God. We don’t possess God. God possesses us. As the Psalm says, “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”

To speak of Tim Tebow’s right to “pray to his God,” diminishes and limits our understanding of what prayer is and who God is. It makes God (seem) smaller. It is like speaking of God with a small “g.” God is the Ground of our Being and the Ultimate Reality in our lives. You can’t put that in your pocket or carry it on a key chain.

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