I was there in 1997 when Tiger Woods took command of the Masters golf tournament and drew the huge throngs of followers unlike anything we’d seen before. Watching his approach (by video…not in person this time!) to the 18th green in this September’s Tour Championship with a swarm of golf fans cheering and clapping and running alongside him was arguably better – but why? (Watch it here if you missed it.)
Tiger hadn’t won a tournament in years and has faced multiple injuries, all following a very public and messy divorce including revelations about his personal life. This was his comeback.
What is it that makes us love a comeback? Why are there such loyal Tiger Woods fans despite his rocky personal life? Why do some people not want him to succeed in golf again? It is all wrapped up in the core of who we are as humans.
We all want our own comeback.
Regardless of the personal faults of others, whether public or private, we all know we are flawed people too. When I saw the clip of Tiger walking up that last fairway, approaching his first tournament victory in five years, he was clearly getting a kick out of the support of the fans. I’ve never been much of a fan of Tiger personally, but I always had respect for how impressive he is as a golfer and a determined athlete. I’ve also noticed – as it has been quite hard to miss – how his demeanor has changed the past few years. From stoic, cold even, on the course to talkative with his competitors, cracking a few smiles, and overall being much more relaxed in press briefings. Humility can do that to any of us.
So why this rally cry for him as he approached the 18th green and why does it resonate with us?
I’ve been thinking about our need for community and hearing how isolated our culture has become. So when I saw the clip of Tiger Woods, I actually thought of the gospel. Every Christian’s story is a comeback story – how we are fallen and God rescued us, but doesn’t treat us as robots or horses with a bit he controls. Instead he empowers us through his Spirit to live abundant lives. To make a comeback through his power.
If only we recognized that at every obstacle we face, we have a throng around us cheering and rooting us on – a band of angels and the God of the universe as well as the people he has placed in our lives. All we have to do is let our guard down and let the support in.
As for the flip side – those who don’t want to see Tiger make a comeback – surely it points to our own self-righteousness. If our deepest longings include perfection, we can sometimes resent it when other flawed humans do well again. David was extremely familiar with seeing the wicked thrive while he suffered. It’s easy to feel that others don’t deserve their comeback. But the reality is that none of us do. That’s what makes the good news of the gospel so remarkable. It’s not that we’ve trained and proven and earned our comeback like athletes do. Rather, God has done all the work for us. As Paul tells us in Romans 3, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. . . Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
For some of us, the pleasure of a victorious comeback may not be fully realized this side of heaven. But how much louder, purer, holier, and more intimate will the heavenly throng be than the one we witnessed on the golf course? I thank God for sports and the myriad of ways they reveal God’s truth.
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