Many athletes are entertaining. Some athletes are enthralling. But it is rare for an athlete to be magnetizing; to have enough pulling power to turn even the disinterested into the fascinated. Not often do we find an athlete so compelling, we must get to a nearby television to participate in the magic of the moment.
Especially for a “boring” game like golf.
I don’t watch golf often, like most people I know. But there are usually two conditions in which I will be watching – if it’s The Masters, and/or if Tiger is in the hunt. Tiger Woods is, in my opinion, the most magnetic athlete of my time. He turns boring into sensational for many. You can never truly count him out until the round is over.
I was rooting for Tiger in The Masters this past week, and to the surprise of many, he actually won it. The decibels spiked as the ball entered the cup, and the familiar-but-nearly-forgotten scene replayed once again: Tiger Woods, donning his red shirt, fist-pumped and grinned ear-to-ear, knowing a green jacket awaited him. We’d been here before, but not for fourteen years. Social media was abuzz Sunday afternoon, eating all of it up: the emotional reaction, his embrace of his son, putting on the jacket and saying “It fits.”
I’ve grown up watching Tiger stun the masses my whole life, ridiculous putts and amazing comebacks and all. But for most of my adult life, Tiger has been looming in the shadows. Formerly a demigod of the sports world, I watched him tumble back down to earth – disgraced by scandal, plagued by injury, and reduced to a punchline. At best, he was a legend of the past, but for many years, a joke of the present.
Tiger put many of his demons to rest Sunday. He finally got his first major victory since 2008, and we celebrated. We cried. We rejoiced.
Is it right for us to “celebrate” such a man? After all, we know what he did. It was very public, and very embarrassing. How could anyone encourage their son to look up to him? We have crucified many for less. Should we care about our being enamored with sport more than the sins of a man?
I don’t know if I have a good answer. But what I do know is, as I watched Tiger’s nearly perfect tee shot on 16 on Sunday, it warmed my heart to see. Because I was seeing a story of redemption unfold on a golf course. Watching Tiger over the last few years, you can see the drive, the pain, the hope in his eyes. He wanted to smile again. And Sunday, we saw it. The Comeback. Joy that survived self-inflicted suffering.
We love stories like this, because it is the story we find ourselves in.
Let him who is without sin among us be the first to throw a stone at such a man with such a past. After all, imagine what they would have said of me, or you, had our sins made it to the ESPN news cycle. Francis Schaeffer once imagined us wearing a tape recorder around our necks from birth, recording every moral judgment we have made, and at the end of our life standing before God, who would simply play back the tape, “that every voice would be stilled.”
If we belong to Christ, then we’re all radical stories of redemption. There are no boring testimonies, because every genuine testimony stands on the surprising grace of God towards sinners. We’re all comeback kids.
And some around us – co-workers, neighbors, family members – are comeback kids in the making. We haven’t seen the redemption really take place in them yet, but neither are we omniscient. They may not be magnetic, but repellent. Yet we must not forget: they are not beyond redemption. No one is in God’s economy. Pagan Ruth. Jealous David. Zealot Paul. Wicked Zach.
I hope that we long for and cheer for and pray for the redemption of our neighbors in the way that we have cheered on Tiger’s golf comeback. He’s had plenty of critics, to be sure, but I would think those who have rooted for him have made this journey a little easier.
Before we dismiss and write off and give up that fellow image-bearer in our sights, we would do well to remember that the inerrant Word of God reminds us that “with God all things are possible.” Even the salvation of a sinner like him, or her. Or you, or me.
I believe we may not have even seen the greatest redemption story yet for Tiger Woods. The Masters is pretty special, but the gospel “is power” that not even magnets, or Woods’ Buddhism, can compete with (Rom 1:16). I hope that, somehow, some way, through this journey he has been on, that he can come to saving faith in Christ. And I hope that those around us, haunted by the shadows of their sins, can as well.
And let’s keep cheering for redemption when we see it. It’s God’s way.