Thank God for unbelievers???

My good friend Devon Kennard shared a great article with me this week and asked my thoughts about it … you can find the article here, but net-net it’s an article about Arian Foster, football player for the Houston Texans. Basically, it talks about Foster’s lack of belief in God, which is manifested by a decidedly secular worldview. It talks about how his position on faith (“Faith isn’t enough for me.”) is uncommon in the NFL culture, and almost suggests that those who are not of faith are ostracized, excluded, ignored, overlooked. And, it almost intonated that those that are secular in their worldviews are forced to be confined to some sort of closet existence. Lastly, it also talked about a relatively unlikely friend Foster has in Justin Forsett, a former teammate and Christian, with whom Foster built a mutually-respectful friendship based on their differences in faith and odd similarity in experience. Both talk about how they have admiration for one another notwithstanding their strongly-held views on life’s arguably most defining principles. One might think two such people couldn’t get along, or would mutually demean the futility or stupidity of one another’s views. In all, there’s a lot of food for thought in the article.

With all that in mind, I chose to reflect this week on this article in light of my daily reading through the New Testament. My reading took me through Romans 3-8, some of the richest portions of one of the preeminently foundational books of the New Testament and some of the apostle Paul’s deepest, most heartfelt writing.

As I think through the article and about Arian Foster’s story, there are a few topics with which I wanted to tinker. First, what do I think about Arian Foster’s self-professed unbelief in God? Second, how do I noodle through the notion of how non-Christians are supposedly shunned or snubbed in the NFL? Finally, what do I make of the way that Justin Forsett has engaged with Arian Foster?

So … Arian’s profession of lack of faith … I guess the first emotion I had when I read it was sadness. I’m sad thinking about someone who doesn’t know the love of their Creator, or who sees the wonders around them and attributes them to chance or the forces of evolution (which aren’t supposed to be “forces,” strictly-speaking). I’m troubled that someone with incredible talent considers himself “self-made” (see the article) and doesn’t recognize the God-given talent that allows him to be such a fantastic athlete. I’m dismayed that there’s no context to the bad things that happen in His life, and no Giver to thank for the great things. I’m disappointed that the loving Lord I know and commune with is longing to have the same relationship with Foster and while He is reaching out yearning to embrace Foster in that love, Foster acknowledges neither His presence nor even His very existence. I’m distraught for Arian Foster, as he’s missing true purpose, fulfillment, and joy in his life. And he doesn’t even know it. Worst of all, it disheartens me that he thinks that when he breaths his last someday, there’s only nothingness … and yet, without Christ, we know better and it’s the worst thing imaginable for him.

Let me be introspective in one regard, though. In my earlier years as a Christian, I would have been one of those who would have looked scornfully at Foster. I would have considered him stupid, foolish, and would have disregarded and potentially disrespected him. I probably would have told him he deserved his fate. Perhaps others of us would have too … let’s face it, there are many of his ilk that perhaps don’t make themselves easy to like, let alone love, when it comes to their acrimony for faith. BUT … and this is THE point … I don’t think that’s God’s heart. Nor should it be ours. Let’s face it (from my reading this week), Romans 3:10-18 (lest any of us forget) …

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, a single one. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace. They have no fear of God at all.”

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back or consider ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3). What we need to ground ourselves in is the fact that God’s heart is broken by those that don’t believe. He in fact is the one offended by unbelief. In truth, we don’t have the right to be offended, as the offense is not against us. Our responsibility is to be sad … for Foster and those of his worldview. Let’s not forget that we ourselves may once have been the Adrian Foster’s of the world … and like for us, God sent His Son Jesus to die for Foster. As long as there is breath in his body, there is time for Foster. And more than just being sad … we’re Biblically called to action … will we be sad enough for Foster (and others like him), and grateful enough for our salvation, that we are willing to do something about, rather than against, him?

On the ostracizing in the NFL … this is an offshoot of the previous points. Certainly it’s awkward in certain circumstances when we encounter others who don’t believe like we do, in particular those that are antagonistic to the faith, and it’s difficult to engage with them. But we are called (as the article accurately points out but inaccurately applies) to love our neighbor … including those unlike us, those who disagree with us. Foster and others who don’t (yet) have belief are different than us … so HOW do we LOVE them? Certainly, it’s not by shoving them aside, not by belittling them, not by excluding them. It’s by showing them. Showing them how we live in concert with our professed faith. Showing them grace and service. Showing them how the Lord filled the “God-shaped hole in all of us,” and allowing them to see the hole in themselves. We do this by showing them God. Too often we talk about God and show people anything but. Could it be that Christendom – and we – are at least partly to blame for the Adrian Foster’s of the world.   I’ll let you chew on it.

Regarding Justin Forsett … I think he got it right. He didn’t shove Foster aside, ignore him, avoid him, shun him. He befriended him, engaged him, challenged him. He allowed Foster in turn (yep, even though he was … gasp … a heathen) to befriend him, engage him, challenge him. The thing is, Forsett was prepared, equipped (see 1 Peter 3:15), and able to handle not only the challenges Foster threw at him … not playful or even hostile barbs, but stimulating philosophical encounter. The type of conversation that we shouldn’t shudder from, but should in many respects pursue. We can minister to the other, but we can sharpen ourselves. We can challenge the other, but embolden ourselves. Frankly, I would imagine we can learn a lot about ourselves and our faith … BY engaging with others who don’t believe the way we do from time to time. With that said … I don’t want to encourage us to do so ill-advised. It’s important, as 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us, that we are ALWAYS READY to explain the hope we have. This means we have to study, prepare, and be equipped for that engagement.

We know that nothing happens outside God’s will. So I’m grateful to Devon for prompting me to read the article, and I’m grateful I guess for Arian Foster’s lack of faith. Perhaps God can use it to strengthen my faith, or maybe yours. Perhaps He can position one of us to reach someone we may not have wanted to reach, might have abandoned to their own folly, or whatever. Maybe the reason is that Devon might crunch Arian on the football field someday, setting the stage for a later discussion about Jesus. Who knows? God does. And I guess in this case we can say, “Thank God for unbelievers.”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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