Tiger Woods and Forgiveness

With Tiger Woods’ return to the golf world at the Masters in Augusta, issues of sin, grace, and forgiveness are back in the news. Masters’ chairman, Billy Payne, took it upon himself to admonish Tiger yet again. Confronting his past behavior with blunt criticism, Payne told the media, “It is simply not the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here. It is the fact that he disappointed all of us and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. Our here did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

Forgiveness

While no one should excuse Tigers’ sin against God and his family, and while as Christian we know that Tiger needs the grace only available in Christ, when is enough enough? When is further public confrontation simply piling on and, in reality, self-serving moralism?

The answers to these questions are not just cultural issues, they are biblical issues—issues of sin, grace, and forgiveness. We find these vital matters powerfully played out in an amazing way in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. In this passage, the Apostle Paul reflects back on a young man he challenged the Corinthians to confront in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Godly sorrow prompted repentance. But the worldly Corinthians were unforgiving. Notice Paul’s response:

“Now instead, you ought to forgive him and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

Then Paul explains why we must lighten the conscience with Christ’s grace:

“In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”

Condemnation is a primary scheme of Satan. Satan first tempts us to sin saying, “God is not good, do as you please.” He then condemns us for sinning, saying, “How could you have sinned against God? He will never forgive a sinner like you!” It’s the old bait and switch.

When we are unforgiving, when we are Pharisaical and judgmental with one another, when we pile on by heaping guilt upon guilt, then we’ve joined Satan’s grand scheme of condemning the conscience. We end up overwhelming people with excessive sorrow.

Words of Wisdom from a Master Pastor

The great Reformer and master pastor, Martin Luther, understood Satan’s scheme. In one of Luther’s letters of spiritual consolation, he wrote a friend who was wracked with guilt. In the letter, Luther addresses and confronts Satan, and in doing so, describes the magnitude of Christ’s grace.

“You say that the sins which we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us.”

Luther’s words remind us of the model portrayed in Les Miserables. Jean val Jean is a paroled criminal who can’t find work or redemption in any form. He finds himself at the mercy of a man of God who feeds and hosts him. But old ways die hard and Jean val Jean steals from this priest. The next day the police return Jean val Jean to the priest’s home. Expecting judgment, the priest tells the police, and Jean val Jean, “He forgot the best I had. He left without these golden candlesticks.”

Acquitted by the priest, the police release Jean val Jean. The priest then looks him in the eyes and tells him that he must use this experience of grace to be a better man. From that moment on another story begins for Jean val Jean—a grace-based story.

There are as many opinions on Tiger Woods as there are people. However, the perspective that should shape our opinion is no opinion at all—it’s God’s authoritative Word. Yes, as Christians, we all know that Tiger needs the grace and forgiveness of Christ. However, continued heaping on of guilt over past sin will not draw a person to Christ. Instead, it will overwhelm that person with excessive sorrow. With Tiger Woods, and with one another, are we dispensers of Christ’s grace, or of Satan’s condemnation?

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