Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Michael Vick Finds Jesus

My second item. There has been a great deal of publicity directed towards the case of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who confessed to being involved in dog fighting. In his televised apology he said that he had found Jesus. A number of other public figures have spoken of finding Jesus (Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton to name two more recent ones). Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed asks: “How do we (as Christians) respond to these type of statements?” My prayer is that Jesus has met him and encountered him at the deepest level - so that he could never go back to anything less satisfying. However, a flurry of comments suggested how some might respond to this statement – including mine - which I included below.

One person said we … “would forgive his debts,” to which I responded:

What debts? All his debts? To whom does he owe those debts? Not to me unless I consciously “took” offense.
I really am wondering about this issue. Maybe it is a result of the media’s hanging out everyone’s dirty laundry and once we see it we feel we have an obligation to respond or judge. I’m wondering what my (or any sincere Christian’s) responsibility is in extending forgiveness to what is really a private (or at least personal) wrong.
The same question stands before us in evaluating his faith commitment. How can I possibly evaluate it? How can I make any judgement on it at all? Do I know him? Does he know me? Can I see his daily life? Is he accountable to me?

On a slightly different tack, the concept of forgiveness has come up a number of times. Yesterday, a neighbour (with whom I have been discussing some issues of forgiveness) asked me if I forgave Michael Vick. My response was “What is there for me to forgive?” I don’t know him. He has never hurt me. He hasn’t harmed my world (any more than a thousand others who have committed crimes). He may have harmed some dogs (or allowed them to harm each other). He may have done something that I find morally wrong. He has confessed to doing something illegal.

But I don’t understand how I could forgive him, or refuse to forgive or have any need to forgive him. Doesn’t a long distance (ie not personal or relational) forgiveness or unforgiveness put me in the position of God and Judge - just as the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing?
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6-7
Do we have any responsibility or right to forgive the sins of someone we have never met or who has never wronged us?

I think it’s difficult enough to forgive my spouse and my neighbour – the people we do know and whom we must forgive.

1 comment:

JACK said...

I followed the thread over at Jesus Creed and it was interesting that everyone was focused on one single question: Did Vick really turn his life over to Jesus?

Even in the "refusals to judge", "benefit of the doubt", "let's pray that the soil is rich" comments, it still was all about this. The obsession, frankly, with whether he realy did commit his life to Jesus is somewhat boggling. (I mean, I realize the importance of salvation and the natural desire to hope that Vick finds it, but the question of what Vick really meant is one that few of us will have the opportunity to really ever know the answer in this lifetime.)

There seems to be an almost blindness to the possibility that one can genuinely set that question aside, even hope for it to be true, yet still question why Vick included that in his statement. As I said over on that thread, what purpose did it serve?

Am I supposed to love him more because now he's saying he's a Christian? Am I supposed to forgive him more now? Am I supposed to feel more sympathy for him? To me, this exposes the flaw in how many of us live out our faith. We are precisely told that the test is in how we treat our "enemies" not those who love us. So what does it say that saying he is a Christian somehow invokes from us (or is perceived that it should invoke from us) a greater degree of care and sympathy than if he just apologized, admitted he screwed up, and showed some genuine intent to reform his ways?

Personally, I think some of the reaction has to deal with how so many of us approach sin in our own lives. There's a real difference between Jesus as a get-out-of-jail-free card or paints-over-anything approach (which, I don't mean to suggest that people approach the faith that way intentionally, but many do) and the one who is overwhelmed by the disproportion between what he deserves and the mercy that he is offered. The former I think too easily brushes the consequences of sin aside by some legal fiction. The latter is the beginning point for accepting the possibility that grace can truly restore.

To translate this to the Vick situation. I think this results in some people treat the mumbling of a few catch phrases about Jesus as an erasure for events. He said the magic words so now everyone must dutifully forget what he did. I don't think this is what we are called to do.

That speech seemed fairly genuine. It also seemed quite practiced. Which means that his mentioning of Jesus was intentional. Maybe he didn't entirely think through the why of why he was saying it; that was a possibility. But one cannot deny that it is also quite probable that he mentioned it because he knew it would garner sympathy.

To me that says something sad about us Christians and also says that if Vick did turn over his life to Christ, man, he still has much to learn about what it means to follow Him. Hell, I do, and I've been at this much longer than he has.

But the reaction of many just is astounding to me. Yes, the culture should find it hard at times to explain why we Christians do what we do. They should be in awe at times of our love and patience, etc. But I'm not sure that that is what this is. I tend to think that when the saints were bein martyred and people didn't understand why they would endure what they endured it was because they didn't share their convinctions not that the Christians seemed stupid. I wonder at times if we in this culture know the difference between the two.