Thursday, December 03, 2009

Can Tiger Be a Better Person?

Tiger Woods
Dad loved Tiger Woods. I'm not sure why, exactly. It wasn't like Dad was that into sports heroes. Sure, he enjoyed golf, but there are a lot of golf superstars around. Tiger, of course, is one of the brightest, a supernova in the heavens of the golfing universe. Even years after Dad's Alzheimer's had begun its slow march toward oblivion, he frequently looked for Tiger on the TV and brightened when he saw him or heard news of him. "That Tiger!" he would exclaim. His admiration was palpable.

So, in a way I'm grateful Dad didn't live to see the fall of that bright star into dark clouds of infidelity and betrayal. He probably wouldn't have believed it. It would have become another confusing battle front in the war between imagination and reality which waged itself constantly amongst the swiss cheese corridors of his deteriorating brain lobes.

My purpose here is not to condemn Tiger. As usual, but for the grace of God, there go I. Each of us struggles with a nature full of human frailties and failings which put us in a state of constant sinfulness, either by commission or omission.

Knowing this, it is sad indeed to read on Tiger's Web site his brief statement vaguely admitting his failures and concluding: "I will try to be a better person."

When an alcoholic says, "I will try not to be an alcoholic," we all shake our heads sadly. We all know that simply trying, an expressed effort of the will, is not enough. An alcoholic is an alcoholic. He or she needs more than to simply try, in order to achieve victory over the alcoholism that has wedged itself into their very nature. He needs intervention. She needs the help of others ... some who are alcoholics and themselves in the process of healing, and some who most definitely are not alcoholics. Fundamental changes must occur, painful changes, which go far beyond simply striving.

Whatever sins we struggle with, what we don't often acknowledge is that those sins are in our nature. In a scientific sense, it's almost as if we are born with those things coded into our DNA. Sometimes that is literally true. In the case of many families, including my own, there is a genetic disposition toward alcoholism, for instance. Other times, various circumstances beyond our control -- the way we were raised, an erroneous system of belief we have adopted, events that have impacted our lives, physical infirmities, etc. -- create within us the weakness or tendency toward a certain category of sin.

Does that mean we are freed from personal responsibility for what we do? Absolutely not. God holds us responsible, those who love us hold us responsible, society should hold us responsible. The law is the law. Even the person judged "innocent by reason of insanity" (the ultimate excuse, I guess) still must experience at least some of the consequences of his choices and his actions (speaking of loss of freedom, at the very least), even though we do not consider him "guilty" per se.

It is precisely because we are so weak and frail and born with this tendency toward sin that God, while he loves us dearly, hates what this sinful nature does to us and others around us, and demands that we be different. "Be ye holy, even as I am holy," He says. Without this holiness, we can't be his friends, exist in his presence. Yet none of us, obviously, are holy. Or can be, simply by trying our best. The solution that is required is more radical and all-encompassing. We need intervention!

Earlier I said that alcoholics, in order to heal, need the help of both other alcoholics who are healing, and of some who are definitely not alcoholics. Likewise we sinners first of all need help from He who has no sin. Scripture tells us that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin (experienced the consequences and penalty of sin) on our behalf in order that we could be made acceptable to God. The ultimate Helper Himself is holy.

Does anyone really understand how this works? No. All we know is that it does. Ultimately, Christ's forgiveness is the only thing that truly does work. The Bible says, "There is no other name under Heaven by which we may be saved."

Likewise, we need the help of other sinners. In my life, this help comes from gathering together with a body of believers who are all acknowledging their failures and seeking together to allow God to change us into his likeness. It is a painful and difficult process -- but the reality is that it's slowly working. I don't believe anyone can be an effective Christian, can hope to make gains in this battle against our inherent sinfulness, without being a vital part of a local church. Scripture says, "Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together." And I believe that there is a reason for everything Scripture says.

Is there hope for Tiger Woods? Yes. But he doesn't stand a chance until he is willing to give up simply "trying to be a better person" and turns instead to the One who gave His life to make us all better people.