The Loyalty of Doubt: On Tim Tebow

I am a Denver Broncos fan, born and raised. The Drive and three Super Bowl losses shaped my youth. A Super Bowl victory punctuated my senior year of college, and another one fit nicely into my year abroad in Northern Ireland. My first ever sermon used John Elway’s hall of fame induction as its main illustration.

I got serious Bronco fan creds.

And I’m not buying Tim Tebow. I don’t think that makes me a bad fan, but a good one.

In sports, as in much of life–relationships, politics, even faith–doubt  and skepticism are better measures of loyalty than outright defense. Tebow and the Broncos have become the staging ground for a vigorous cultural conversation about doubt and faith, as evidenced by Les Carpenter’s column this morning that declares:

I believe we have evolved from apes. I believe in dinosaurs. I also believe the earth was created from debris surrounding the sun that clumped together into a spherical shape. And I believe it all happened in more than seven days. But I also believe in Tim Tebow because there is no scientific explanation for what is happening to the Denver Broncos

What is happening is really remarkable, and a fan’s dream. Who doesn’t want their team to be the subject of every national sports talk show? Tebow, the unproven superstar celebrity, took over a 1-4 team and has lead a 6-1 resurgence, including a never-before-seen string of comeback wins: road wins, wins wrested from the jaws of defeat in the final two minutes, overtime wins. All of a sudden, the Broncos are leading their division and stand a very, very good chance of making the playoffs. Impressive stuff, to say the least.

Yet the teams the Broncos have beat in this stretch have a combined record of 39-52 (including losses to Denver. The record absent games against the Broncos is 39-46). The NFL is a tough league, but it needs to be asked whether slogging through a below average field to emerge the best of the worst deserves all the accolades.

The pattern is well-known by now. Tebow and the Broncos offense spin their wheels for three and a half quarters while the defense keeps the game close, setting the stage for some improbable last minute heroics. The heroics are great, but how heroic is it to merely stay in the game against bad teams so that you can pull off a buzzer beater? It’s kind of like the outfielder who loafs after a routine  flyball only to make a spectacular diving catch. The fans love it, but it shouldn’t have had to be spectacular.

Anyway, this isn’t a sports blog, so to my point: I don’t think all of this is real, and I expect the reckoning to come next Sunday when the Broncos play an elite team, the New England Patriots. Yet I’m contesting that this disbelief is an exercise in loyalty to my team. There are a lot of factors beyond Tim Tebow’s leadership and (wince) “belief” that are contributing to what’s happening, and I think the faithful fans are the ones who can take an honest look at reality and celebrate their team’s wins while still expecting them to lose.

Which I do. Next Sunday. Against New England.

The church application here is that things go right and work well in our faith communities for lots of reasons, many of them practical and many of them mysterious. The same thing happens in the lives of our people, and it is a good pastoral care to help people take a clear-eyed account of a complex reality before urging them to “let go and let God.”

A good pastor can say, “There’s a lot going on here that we can’t see and don’t understand. Some of that may be God’s doing, and some of it may be sociology/psychology/economics/(insert your academic discipline here) playing out in was that other people do understand.”

A faithful thing to do, then, is to help people listen to those other people and try to learn from them, rather than viewing their account as lacking in faith.