So when Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens upset Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round I was upset…so upset that I almost turned off the television. But I didn’t. I stayed glued to the television because I was curious as to what the always emotional Ray Lewis would say about the victory in his on-field, post game interview.
What happened next was, indeed, very curious. When asked how the Baltimore Ravens were able to walk onto Denver’s home turf and walk away with a victory, Ray responded, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).
I laughed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. But I did.
On the one hand I was quite pleased that Ray reads the bible. This is undoubtedly a positive thing. But then I said audibly to myself, “Surely Ray Lewis doesn’t really think that the prophet Isaiah had professional football in mind. Surely he doesn’t really think that ‘no weapon’ can be applied to Peyton Manning.”
Apparently he does.
Following the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Ray Lewis, again went to Holy Scripture. This time he summoned the Apostle Paul for the explanation of their victory: “When God is for us, who can stand against us” (Romans 8:31).
<insert divinely inspired facepalm>
Before I go any further let me say a few things.
This is in no way a judgment of Ray Lewis’ intent. I believe that he is sincere. However, someone can be sincere and still be sincerely wrong. I cannot question his intent but I can question the truthfulness of his content. Why?
1. words matter.
2. public words can be critiqued publicly.
3. truth must be told within the body.
You see, the Apostle Paul, in the middle of the first century, wasn’t writing about a multi-billion dollar American sports industry. In fact, Romans 8:31, in context, is speaking specifically of individuals being reconciled to God in the person of Jesus Christ – who advocates on behalf of humanity in the midst of our common struggle with falling short of perfection. So when a figure as well-known as Ray Lewis stands up on a stage as large as the Super Bowl and butchers the Gospel, clarification is needed.
So let’s be clear:
God is not on the Ravens’ side; God is not on the 49ers’ side.
God is not on the Republicans’ side; God is not on the Democrats’ side.
God is not on Fox News’ side; God is not on MSNBC’s side.
God is not on Iran’s side; God is not on America’s side.
God is not on women’s side; God is not on men’s side.
God is not on single people’s side; God is not on married people’s side.
In fact, God is not taking sides with you against anyone.
God is planted firmly on the side of humanity, in solidarity with each of us.
Romans 8 is not about football. Romans 8 is the Gospel.
Again, I believe that Ray is sincere. But there is a difference between giving God glory and making God your errand boy. Ray could have said, “I am so thankful for grace. It is better than any trophy.” That would have been giving God glory and properly understanding the arc of Paul’s thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Lord is giving Ray strength to stand up against criticism and pressure, but the idea that God is blessing the Ravens with wins because of Ray’s faith is deeply troubling. According to this line of thinking, God’s blessing is based upon an equation. If we have deep faith in God, then God will bless us with worldly success. Is this not the Prosperity Gospel on steroids or deer antler extract (see what I did there)?
What about athletes on other teams who have a deep faith and yet are not winning? What about believers in Iran who are persecuted for standing up for Christ? What about the members of the early church who suffered and died because of their faith? What about the oppressed and impoverished believers all across the world who are without food and shelter? What about the widow? The orphan?
How selfish are we when we, as affluent Americans, think that God will bless us with worldly success if we simply have a deep faith. Not to mention that this distorted theology sees God as a means to an end rather than valuing God as the end.
I think we need to be reminded of the incarnation. We need to be reminded of Emmanuel-God with us. Not with us, on earth, as a principality or power; but with us as a baby, powerless, born in a feeding trough to a poor, marginalized, outcast family. This, therefore, is the true nature of God.
The incarnation – Christ’s appearance in a life involving suffering and death – claims that God has to be like this. God did not incidentally choose this path. Therefore, a god that Ray claims is rewarding him with victories but not responding to the cries of the oppressed is a god that I want nothing to do with because that god is not The God of the Bible. Our faith is foolishness to those who don’t believe without being misrepresented.
However, I cannot point out the speck of sawdust in a brothers eye without acknowledging the 2×4 in my own eye. I too have misrepresented God and in doing so have taken God’s name in vain. For that and many other reasons I am in need of repentance and am thankful for the grace of God in Christ our advocate who is not fighting my athletic conquests but is reconciling me to the Father.