CNN recently posed a question on its daily poll: Is Tim Tebow’s success attributable to God? That requires a long explanation and a far better answer than the two available options of yes or no.
For those who do not know, Tebow is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. He is in his second year there after an unprecedented career at the University of Florida where he won two national championships and the Heisman Trophy as the country’s best collegiate football player.
A big, powerful man, however, he is not rated as a good professional quarterback. He winds up to throw the ball, wasting precious seconds, and has shown limited accuracy. His footwork is poor as well. As a result, he didn’t play his first year. However, this year, after the starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, faltered, fans pushed the coach to use Tebow. He responded with six victories in his first seven games.
Many of the wins were seemingly miraculous, coming late in the game or overtime. Things just worked out perfectly for Tebow: opponents lost their starting quarterbacks before playing the Broncos; opposing players slipped or made mistakes. For example, in a game against the Chicago Bears, the opposing running back inexplicably failed to stay inbounds and keep the game clock running, giving Tebow the necessary extra seconds to mount a final, successful drive.
Tebow is a very religious man and credits God with his success. That’s what prompted the CNN question. The last time I looked, 71 percent of responders said No that God was not involved in Tebow’s success; the rest said Yes, God was helping Tebow win.
His pastor naturally went with the affirmative. Pastor Wayne Hanson told reporters: "It's not luck. Luck isn't winning six games in a row. It's favor. God's favor.” Another minister, Pastor Andre Butler, senior pastor of Word of Faith International Christian Center, in Southfield, Michigan, went online to agree, insisting that “God IS in the business of causing those that truly live their lives for him to have success in WHATEVER they put their hand to.” (The capitals are in the original.)
First, Tebow is hardly the first football player (or sports figure) to have late-game heroics. George Blanda, for example, was a 43-year old quarterback for the Oakland Raiders in 1970 when he won five straight games in seemingly miraculous fashion: throwing touchdown passes or kicking last-second field goals. No one suggested God was on his side. Or when Albert Pujols, then starring for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, won back-to-back games with homeruns in the team’s last at-bat in 2011.
The list could be endless, but no one credited God, because those athletes were not as religious as Tebow. They certainly didn’t kneel in prayer during games as Tebow does. They may thank God for any success – Pujols always points to the sky – but they don’t believe God did the work.
Second, Tebow didn’t win all his games. In one, the Detroit Lions smothered the Broncos 45-10. Tebow was tackled seven times in the backfield and twice turned the ball over to the Lions. Was God on vacation? Did He decide that, this one afternoon, Tebow would have to succeed by himself?
Third, there are religious players on teams that the Bronco defeated. Did God reject them for Tebow? What did they do wrong to lose God’s blessing?
Fourth, God must be new at this game. While Tebow had a great college career -- arguably the best by any college football player – he was not a complete success. He won a Heisman Trophy, but was favored two other times. Another player, Archie Griffin, won the coveted award twice without God’s apparent help. Moreover, Tebow was a backup player when Florida won its 2006 national championship, but in his first year as a starter, the team lost four games and finished ranked 13th.
After winning the national championship in 2008, Tebow decided to return to school for his senior year rather than enter the NFL draft. In his last collegiate season, the Gators were crushed by eventual national champion Alabama and ended up ranked fifth nationally.
While that’s an excellent record, it’s hardly perfect and shows no divine intervention.
Fifth, God may be a football fan, but that’s just a game – and it’s not the biggest game in the world. Soccer is. Tebow is virtually unknown outside of this country. While Americans like to think we have God’s blessing, every other country feels the same way.
Sixth, what happens when Tebow starts losing? He may have led his team into the playoffs, but only after dropping the last two games of the season with pathetic performances. Does that mean God deserted him?
Finally, contrary to the pastors, there’s not a shred of evidence that God supports those who believe in Him or does not. True believers do not have fewer problems or have happier lives. No research has ever come to that conclusion. Events happen at random, hitting the faithful and the atheist without deference.
That’s that same for Tim Tebow.
God may or may not be taking an interest in the Bronco’s quarterback, but winning a few games hardly constitutes proof of anything.
Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.