Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive.
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
I confess that I was one of those who used to resent Tebow’s success and prominence (in a Nietzschean herd resentment mentality against the ubermensch manner) until I read Alastair Robert’s penetrating analysis as to the root motivation behind this resentment of Tebow. He begins by citing another commentary on him by Daniel Foster,
With very few exceptions … athletes’ professions of faith strike most believers, nonbelievers, and agnostics alike as empty ritual, an extended solipsism in which big men with bigger egos congratulate themselves for having God on their side. How could it be otherwise? We see that in fact so many of them are supremely arrogant — materialists, abusers, and lechers. We’ve become cynical and secular enough as a society that this dissonance doesn’t bother most people. The hypocrisy is actually sort of comforting, a confirmation that that old hokum in the Bible has no bearing on the world as it actually is. It’s the same sort of glee you see from some when Christian politicians and ministers are felled by all-too-human moral — especially sexual — foibles.
By contrast, Tebow is the last Boy Scout. A leader on the field and off who spent his college years not indulging in any of the worldly pleasures afforded to Heisman Trophy winners, but doing missionary work in Thailand; helping overworked doctors perform circumcisions in the Philippines (you read that right); and preaching at schools, churches, and even prisons. This is a young man with such a strong work ethic that, according to teammates, he can’t even be coaxed into hitting the town on a night after a Broncos win, because he is too busy preparing for the next week’s game. This is a young man who even turned the other cheek at Stephen Tulloch’s Tebowing, saying, “He was probably just having fun and was excited he made a good play and had a sack. And good for him.”
That’s way too much earnestness for the ironic. It’s way too much idealism for the cynical. And it’s way too much selflessness for the self-absorbed. In short, people aren’t upset at Tebow’s God talk. They’re upset that he might actually believe it.
Alastair goes on to observe,
In order to feel secure, justified, and self-assured in our unbelief, we view all others with a cynical and critical gaze, with the jaundiced eye that colours all it sees. The fundamentalist ‘true believers’ are merely ignorant, players of power games, or hypocrites. The transparent and genuine faith of someone like Tebow offends us precisely because it exposes the degree to which our own lives are characterized by a profound detachment and self-protective distance from anything that might demand our ultimate loyalty, service, and love. It cuts through our rationalizations and exposes the lie that grounds them. I am including myself throughout, because this is a sin that I recognize in myself: I have been powerfully shaped by a sort of theological training that often celebrates and cultivates exactly such a detachment and distance from faith.
Far too much contemporary cutting edge Christian thought is merely concerned with the sophisticated rationalization of unbelief for a theologically elitist crowd who believe that their cultured distance from faith makes them closer to God. We celebrate a faith that has shrunk in the wash, cloaking our unbelief with tortured exegesis or by ‘cutting a scandalizing God down to the size of our believing.’ Rather than lamenting our unbelief, we can re-characterize it as a more profound form of faith.
In such a context, our entire confession of faith can operate as if it were between ‘air quotes’, attenuated by countless qualifications and reservations, and most powerfully by our cultivated distance. While it is still confessed, we need to beware of taking it too seriously. Such an attitude can pervade many contexts, even where very good things are said in principle. Our cynicism, disillusion, and indifference make it difficult for us to throw ourselves unreservedly into believing anything, being moved by anything, or surrendering ourselves to any truth.
It was this that made me realise that I have long ceased to be believe in God the Creator in Luther’s sense, that he provides me with all my worldly goods and material comforts out of his sheer grace and mercy and more importantly to believe that God the Father does answer empirical and material needs and prayers and does actually make an actual visible difference in my life.
The prayer and hope for the meeting of material needs is among the most vulnerable of prayers, it is a visible fact as to whether or not your empirical needs are provided, the dangers and risk of falsification are high, because herein is the test as to whether God does make a real difference. But rather than petition for more faith to match the challenges of the fear and risk of disappointment, we resort instead to remove hope’s very precondition, by ceasing to believe that God can act in the material world altogether to meet our needs, and reduce the divine action to a purely “gnostic” significance, that of a mere moral policeman of the world. To protect ourselves from disappointment and from the fear of frustrated hope visibly falsified, we banish the divine agency away from the provision of material and visible goods into a purely “spiritual” and “religious” provider of moral edification and esoteric spiritual experiences, as if God is the more pure for not tainting himself with the provision of this worldly goods, successes and pleasures, as if God is more God for being more invisible in its acts and further away from his own creation.
I once commented on the need for discernment in our critique of the Prosperity Gospel, and as valid as many of our objections and concerns might there, we must not veer into the other gnostic end of denying that God has no empirical significance altogether. This is something which I would need a lot of help to get over, to repent and to forsake, but in the words of the Gospel, our continual cry must be, Lord I believe, help thou me my unbelief!