Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Ray Lewis and Bad Theology
“Love your enemies, do good, lend expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great and you will be called children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
Thirteen years ago outside a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker were stabbed to death by someone (or more than one person) in a group that included Baltimore linebacker and future hall of famer Ray Lewis. We know there was an altercation. We know that at least some of them sped away from the scene in Lewis’s limousine. We know that he told everyone not to say anything. We know that the white suit he was wearing was blood stained and has never been found. And we know that eventually he was given a deal by prosecutors and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in return for his testimony against others in his group who were eventually acquitted.
Since then, Ray Lewis has turned his life around. He is in many ways a model citizen. His teammates see him as a role model. And he is often described as “a committed Christian.”
In a taped interview that aired during the Super Bowl, CBS sports analyst and former teammate Shannon Sharpe observed that the families of the victims have said that they find it painful to watch Lewis “being celebrated by millions.” Sharpe asked, “What would you say to the families?”
Lewis responded with an answer that was also a statement of his faith: "It’s simple. God has never made a mistake. That’s just who He is, you see.... To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, He don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory. No way. It’s the total opposite."
In other words, if Lewis were not a good person then he would not have been successful. His success proves that he is not guilty. In other words, people get what they deserve.
And just so that we are clear, Ray knows, really knows, the way God works.
The Super Bowl is often an occasion for bad theology. There are always more than a few players (and fans) who thank God for favoring their team, or blessing their effort, or in some other way choosing them for this special reward. But this goes way beyond the usual.
It’s not just bad theology; it’s evil theology.
If we believe Ray Lewis then we have to believe that Jesus was mistaken when he said that God is kind to those who are wicked and ungrateful, or that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. And if we believe Ray Lewis then we will have to reject the Sermon on the Mount and most of the Gospels . . . just for starters.
Theological narcissism is bad enough, but the real evil comes when we look at the implications for the victims of that double murder thirteen years ago. If God chose to glorify Ray Lewis, did God also choose death for Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker? If we believe that God controls reward and punishments and “never makes a mistake” then they must have gotten what they deserved.
The rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor. Because God rewards goodness and punishes evil.
It is natural for those who have been successful to claim divine favor, so that success becomes evidence of moral and religious superiority. Ray Lewis’s faith in his own goodness has a strange parallel in the objections raised two hundred and fifty years ago by the Duchess of Buckingham after hearing the followers of John Wesley preach about God’s grace. “Their doctrines are most repulsive,” she wrote to a friend, “and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks, and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.”