The Tiger Woods press conference last week only served to reiterate two things. 1) From the moment Tiger hit the tree, the whole thing has been weird. I will admit that I only saw the last three or four minutes of his statement, but it looked weird, sounded weird, and in my mind it was weird. 2) The statement also served to reiterate that for the media and most of America, all Tiger has to do to be forgiven is win. No matter what he says or does from this moment forward if Tiger Woods wins, America will move on.
The sports writers loosely use the term “forgiveness” when describing Tiger’s future. Will America forgive him? The fallacy here is that it actually matters if Tiger finds forgiveness with sports fans. It is also fallacious to believe that forgiveness weighed in the courts of public opinion is the real thing. America may move on and celebrate him if he wins, but celebrating a winner is different than dealing with sin. In this respect the sports writers and most Americans have it dead wrong. Rooting for Tiger is not the same as forgiving Tiger. Being willing to overlook what someone has done because of their accomplishments is not forgiveness. Filing something away in the mental recesses is not the same as forgiveness. To demonstrate the point I ask this question. What if Tiger does not win another golf event? Will he be forgiven or will his transgression then be celebrated in the media as the moment Tiger fell. When I say “celebrated” I do not mean cheered, but rather documented, replayed, analyzed, scrutinized, and exhaustively written about in the media ad nauseam. Forgiveness is not found in low golf scores, athletic accomplishments, and media favor. Forgiveness is another matter entirely.
Tiger needs forgiveness that has nothing to do with golf. He needs forgiveness that involves restoration, reconciliation, and repentance. He needs to be able to walk away from his past and find a more hopeful future that is marked by changed behavior. He needs forgiveness that has nothing to do with a public opinion poll. Tiger may find favor with ESPN again, he may remain a billionaire, he may endorse shaving gel and Buicks again, but if he does not find true forgiveness the tale of his unraveling has only just begun.
Tiger has become for many Americans what most sports icons are to us, a vicarious offering. We have all sinned. The only difference in most of us and Tiger is that our sin just isn’t on film. Yet in Tiger’s experience, most Americans are hopeful that they too can lose self-control and yet retain a fairytale ending; as in, “they lived happily ever after.” Sin doesn’t work this way and neither does forgiveness.
Sin destroys. While forgiveness may heal the man, it may not return him to the luster of his accomplishments. Forgiveness is not simply finding public favor. Forgiveness is about finding a place of repentance. It is the contrition of the soul, the surrender of the will, an altar of mercy. King David’s sin cost him a peaceful throne, but he found forgiveness. Public opinion polls found him wanting the rest of his days, but the fate of his soul he knew quite well (Psalm 51).
If we were honest we would have to admit that the ESPN, public opinion version of forgiveness is way too uncertain. That version of forgiveness is tied to golf. If Tiger wins he will be forgiven. Personally, I want something more. So do you. Our souls need something far more substantial to rest upon than scores. Do not be duped by ESPN’s definition of forgiveness. The stories they broadcast about Tiger and America’s resulting opinion matter not. Tiger doesn’t need the media or America’s cheap, pragmatic, results driven version of forgiveness. True forgiveness is not weighed in the courts of public opinion, but before the throne of Almighty God. The good news is that God has given His Son as a sacrifice for sin. ESPN’s version of forgiveness is public. God’s version of forgiveness is personal. Jesus crucifixion is connected to every illicit affair and lie of Tiger Woods. Jesus’ crucifixion was because of me. Jesus’ crucifixion was because of you. If Tiger doesn’t win, the gospel teaches that he can still be truly forgiven, but only if he seeks it with a God who has given His Son for sinners.
Sin is not about golf. Sin is about God. Forgiveness found in the gospel of Jesus Christ is substantial and has nothing to do with low scores, media hype, or public opinion. In the gospel man’s soul finds sure footing, peace, and rest. You and I, and Tiger need Jesus. Only a relationship with the Son of God, as defined by His gospel, can bring about what our souls really need; reconciliation, restoration, and a version of healing that is not dependent upon scores and public opinion.