I heard an inspiring interview about 5 months ago with Ryan Leaf and Jim Rome. If you don’t know Ryan Leaf, he was the former number 2 draft pick (right behind Peyton Manning) for the San Diego Chargers. His career spiraled out of hand as soon as it started and he became addicted to pain killers. It became so bad that he was getting them from his players while a quarterback coach for some small college.
Once regarded by many as simply a jerk, he seemed very repentant, broken, and well, likeable in the interview. I would have enjoyed meeting the guy. And then now, he’s been arrested twice in 4 days for burglary, theft, criminal possession of drugs.
That led to a dichotomizing discussion on the Jim Rome show today: was Ryan Leaf duping us all along, or had he simply succumbed to his addiction and fallen off the wagon?
Here are some of my “takes” from Jim Rome’s and his callers “takes.”
1.) Need for another category: Good guy with addiction or Bad Guy?
Those were the only two categories offered. Some called in and said he’s simply a bad buy, and lied to “us”when interviewed. He was only trying to sell books. By breaking into homes, we know for sure that he’s a bad guy. We all have demons, and don’t give in to them. That was one sentiment.
The other “take” was that he wasn’t a bad guy, but simply had an addiction, as though an addiction is something external and draws its victims in like a magnet. He was a good guy when interviewed, and legitimately meant what he said when he talked of turning over a new Leaf (actually he didn’t say that-but he could have….) and trying to be a better person. He still is a good guy, but just has a problem.
So which one was it? Everyone had to classify him as either good or bad.
Instead of the good and bad distinction where we judge (as though we are better) or blame the addiction and not the person, here is a more robust anthropology.
- All men/women are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Even sin does not erase that image (Gen 6; James 3)
- Sin does tarnish the image of God in man/women so we don’t reflect that image as clearly any longer.
- Because we are made in God’s image, we will do and say things that are right and culturally good. Not all folks are drug addicts, murderers, thieves; many are in fact the opposite. They are nice, welcoming, will bake you cookies and help old ladies cross the street. We’re not as bad as we could be.
- Regardless, deeds not done in faith are always considered sin (Romans 14). And that sin is like menstrual garments (Romans 3) and the natural state of man is that we are God’s enemies and enslaved (Ephesians 2). Ryan Leaf is not a good guy in this sense; though neither are you and I. No one makes the cut.
- If you wanted to really categorize people into camps, it’s more biblically accurate to put them into three camps: Those who seek righteousness and standing before God and others by the good things they do (Leaf is bad and I’m good; or Leaf isn’t bad, he just has an addiction, so we’re both good), OR the bad things they do (Leaf in his drug habit robbing people to get a fix) OR those who rest in Christ’s righteousness by faith.
Without this third category, people either judge sinners or excuse sin. Without resting in a righteousness that comes from God, our natural instinct is to seek some form of it (Romans 10:3) and then judge/excuse others according to our own righteousness. The gospel is the difference maker.
2.) The need for a Judge.
While I think the question is illegitimate in some ways with some of its presuppositions, it does reveal to all of us a legitimate need: we need a good judge. It really doesn’t matter to me if Ryan Leaf duped me with the interview. He could easily have relapsed after having been drug-free the way that our fellow Christian Josh Hamilton has. Or has he been duping us all along and simply selling books? Was he legitimately broken before, or just faking it? What about now? Ultimately we’ll never know. Most people don’t care. But this kind of thing is important because many people do bad things, and sometimes bad things to us (and vice versa of course). Are they truly sorry and repentant? We can make an educated guess, but we don’t render their judgment. God does, and He’s a good judge. We can say this or that behavior is wrong. Yet we cannot know the heart with 100% certainty and often times shouldn’t attempt to arrive there. The discussion was in some way irrelevant, but clearly revealed a deep need illegitimately met.
3.) It’s OK to be duped
Paul argues in his first letter to the Corinthians for Christians to not take other Christians to court (I Cor 6). He tells them it’s better to just be wronged if they can’t settle it themselves. I would assume its probably better to just be duped than to adopt The Who’s attitude, “We won’t get fooled again.” I’m sure there are truly legitimate struggling drug addict believers in local churches. They may struggle till the day they die. Others may appear to struggle by faith, but truly just want their fix and use the church as a “cover.” But Jesus reminds his followers not to pull up the weeds with the wheat because by doing so, they would actually hurt struggling believers. I think its OK to be duped. We welcome drug addicts in the local churches, and we may get duped into thinking they really love Jesus (or that Jesus really loves them). We don’t excuse the sin or judge the sinner. Some may be believers. Some may not be. But we can’t assume every addict is the same. The gospel that saves them is no more miraculous than the gospel that saves anybody. And God’s grace is sufficient even when lives don’t change as much as would hope to see. No one is saved by his/her good deeds but by the good deeds of Jesus.