Last week I was reading the blog of my longtime friend, Rick Redding, and noticed he wrote this about Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow: “I hate that guy.”

Wow! Hate? Strong stuff.

I knew he wasn’t the only one with such splenetic distaste for Tebow, so I emailed him and asked, basically, “Why hate?”

Redding replied, “No worries. It’s not an anti-religion thing. I don’t like his team and all the jumping on by fans. Stirring things up.”

Tim Tebow, full-time Denver Bronco, part-time public lightning rod.

Theologically speaking, Redding and I are polar opposites. I believe in God (and am a Christian), and he thinks the whole Bible is nonsense. Fair enough. He’s entitled to believe how he likes.

But here’s the truth for Redding and many others: They hate Tebow because he speaks openly about Christ, credits God for his life—good times and bad—and tries to be a moral person in a morass of temptation.

They might dislike him because his team beat theirs, but hate him? I doubt it.

Take away all evidence of his faith, his outward love of Christ and you have a nice guy, a friendly dude who, despite his small size and unimpressive throwing arm, continues to lead a half-decent football team to wins when losses seem inevitable.

People want the lovable, smiling underdog, an Everyman with whom many identify.

But that’s only one part of Tebow. The other part provides the rub: he’s an outspoken Christian who, though living in a society that protects pornography as “free speech,” is criticized bitterly for his simple, public faith.

Why? Because faith lived out loud is threatening and irritating because in some cases it causes us to measure where we are in light of God’s perfection, law and grace. When it forces us to see ourselves for the corrupt creatures we are, we don’t like it and we’ll sooner be damned than accept that uncomfortable truth—or the grace that erases every sin.

Does the very visage of Tim Tebow say all that?

Not on the surface. But if, as I believe, we’re all created in the image of God and wired to understand some profound things at a subconscious or soul level, we’re often moved to ecstasy or anger by such notions. It’s my sense Tebow’s faith has the same effect on some.

And if not, why else would people hate such a simple guy? I asked the same question years ago.

Prior to his infamous “fall” about five years ago, NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon provoked similar ire for being an outspoken Christian. Though popular with many NASCAR fans, the majority also dubbed him too nice, too clean cut, to lacking a southern accent, too clean a racer and too soft spoken (dare I say, “too Tebowesque?”) His amazing success and rapid rise to the top only agitated his enemies more.

Why? Because just as it happened in the Bible, humanity wants a Barabbas, not a Christ. People identify more with the murderer than the good guy. “Free the party animal,” we say, “not the prude!”

Which is much like what’s going on in the NFL. Many fans—if not most—prefer a playboy to a prayer boy. They like the quarterback who gets all the chicks, the fast cars and the big homes. They like the guy who gets the royal treatment wherever he goes because it’s part of their own fantasy. Such “stars” are the embodiment of the false notion that “Life would be so cool if I lived like that guy!”

But not for Tebow. The world doesn’t get too excited about bygone virtues like chastity and humility. Summer vacations spent working at your parents’ Christian orphanage in the Philippines? Is he crazy? He should be banging chicks and buying pricey sports cars!

ESPN The Magazine columnist Howard Bryant wrote a great piece in the book’s December issue on why fans shouldn’t be so crazy about Tebow. In short, he provided numbers—facts, not emotion—about why Tebow ain’t that great and shouldn’t dominate every sports highlight reel.

I couldn’t agree with him more. Tebow’s numbers aren’t impressive when laid out so plainly. (If he’s that bad a quarterback, how can anyone actually hate him for his quarterbacking skills? Proves my point.) But the fact is quarterbacks get the lion’s share of the credit or criticism for their team’s performance, and such heaps of praise—deserved or not—make up the current spoils for Tebow.

Maybe I’m not enough of an NFL fan to become emotional about it, but I don’t see Tebow’s success—call it luck if you like—to be anything capable of provoking such hatred.

But if you praise God and live a clean life as he appears to be doing, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

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