I know every sexual addiction spokesperson on the planet has already jumped all over the Tiger Woods story, but at the risk of being a Johnny-come-lately, I throw in my two cents.
I’m not going to comment on whether I think Tiger was sincere or whether he just has good speech-writers. I don’t think there are many people who could accurately comment on that. I will say, however, his speech was a well-thought confession and acceptance of personal responsibility.
Following his opening statements, Tiger states, “I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.” This set the tone for the entire speech. Repeatedly he takes responsibility for his multiple affairs, calling his actions “selfish,” “foolish,” and “wrong.” He apologizes to just about every person or group of people he has offended: his wife, children, friends, staff, business partners, fans, and the parents who used to point to him as role model for their kids. “The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior,” and Tiger adds, “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.”
Yes, his speech was littered with therapeutic language, much of which I can only assume he received while in his “inpatient therapy” for 45 days. But it is so encouraging to see a celebrity make honest admissions before the world, accepting full responsibility for his actions. His candor was, in my opinion, remarkable.
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One of Tiger’s statements caught my attention:
“I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.”
We hear this all the time from husbands who indulge in pornography, many of them Christians. It is not uncommon for a man to segregate some part of his life he considers to be completely and totally “his own”—an area of his life where he feels at liberty to live how he wants.
This was certainly true for me. Even when I was engaged in vocational ministry, often I would start to harbor an attitude of wanting “me time.” The thinking was, “I do so much work all the time, sacrificing myself for the sake of serving others. I have earned a little time to myself, a little time to relax.” Of course, by “time to myself” I meant, “time when I am my own master, when I can play by my own rules.” This attitude is fertile ground for further temptation. I found (in order to display long-term repentance from pornography) I needed to repent daily of this attitude of entitlement.
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Tiger’s Buddhist Comments
You might have expected me to comment on this. It’s too tempting not to address Tiger’s Buddhist remarks:
“I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. . . . I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.”
These brief remarks are actually a very accurate representation of Buddhist dharma. At the core of Buddhist teaching is an explanation and answer for suffering in the world. All suffering is thought to stem from taṇhā, or what Tiger refers to as “craving.” It is a word that literally means “thirst.” In an unpredictable and changing world, when we crave something (a pleasurable experience, an object, or even crave a lack of something), our cravings will inevitably be frustrated. By following the path set out by Buddhism, the cravings can be quenched, and suffering will cease.
Whether this sort of “enlightenment” is possible (psychologically speaking) is not my concern, though enlightenment experiences are an interesting phenomenon to study. Rather, I’m interested in stark contrast between Buddhism and Christianity in this area. The two could not be more different.
Craving or desire is not the cause of suffering in a Christian worldview, but rather the twisted direction of our cravings. At the core of Christianity is a belief in a personal God, alive with vibrant desire. He is said to be “blessed” or happy (1 Timothy 1:11), joyful (Matthew 25:23), well pleased (2 Peter 1:17-18), and full of delight (Matthew 12:18). In fact, many of God’s attributes point back to God’s emotional life: His love, wrath, justice, patience, benevolence, etc. This God has created us in His image, as relational creatures who reflect His passions.
Thus, in Christian living, the “lusts of the flesh” are not overcome by quenching them through a process of enlightenment, but by keeping in step with the desires of the Holy Spirit and letting those passions win out (Galatians 5:16). Christian ethical conduct is experienced as a life of passion, a life of a delight in God, and enjoying His world His way.
So who was right? The Buddha or Christ? Ultimately, Christians stand with Christ not because they happen to like His ethics, but because they believe God has demonstrated that Jesus is His Son by raising Him from the dead.
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“I have a lot to atone for”
Though Tiger professes an interest in rededicating himself to the Buddhist path, he does slip in a little Judeo-Christian verbiage when he says, “I have a lot to atone for.” Now I’m sure he’s using this term in a generic sense: “I must make amends,” or “I have to do the work of reconciliation.” But in Christian theology “atonement” has a God-ward orientation. Because we are all defiant against God’s moral law, our greatest need in life is to make amends with Him. One day God will justly pronounce His verdict over our lives: we all deserve an eternity of separation from Him.
But thanks be to God: He has provided atonement. This is exactly what Jesus came to do. During His last evening with his disciples, He told them He was about to be betrayed into the hands of the Roman authorities and executed, but that His death would be “for our sins.” On the cross He would not only endure excruciating physical pain, not only endure the shame of reproach from His people, but He would also endure the painful silence of God—total abandonment from His Father. This was all a part of bearing the curse for our sin.
God doesn’t just automatically forgive sins by dismissing them as if they did not matter. If God ever looked at all the atrocities ever committed and simply overlooked them, this would not only make Him unjust, but unloving. No, God punishes all sin. But in His grace He sent Jesus as a substitute for those who would throw themselves on God’s mercy.
Jesus talks about this in one of his famous parables. He tells the story about two men who enter the temple to pray, one a religious leader and the other a tax collector. The religious leader’s prayer is typical self-righteous babble: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, aware of his utter unworthiness before God, stood back from the altar and wouldn’t even raise his face to heaven. He beat his chest and simply prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18). In Jesus’ story it is the tax collector, not the religious leader, who goes home justified in God’s eyes.
In the original language, the phrase “be merciful to me” actually means, “placate your anger against me.” This term is a part of a family of terms throughout the Bible used to describe the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—which absorbs God’s wrath for sin (Hebrews 2:17; see also Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)
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My Prayer for Tiger
I wish Tiger Woods the best in his pursuit of sexual wholeness, but more than this, I pray he will see his affairs as a sign of a sin-sick heart. I applaud his words of confession before a watching world, but I also pray he will understand the need to do the same before his Creator. I am pleased he sees a need for more than just correcting his behavior, that he wants to put his cravings and desires in check. But I pray more than this, that he will some day see God as the object of his greatest desire.
Tiger’s sins are certainly egregious, but so are all of ours. And just like in Jesus’ story, not everyone who whispers a prayer to God goes home forgiven. Only those like the tax collector, only those who come to the end of themselves under the weight their guilt before their Almighty Judge, those who trust in the atoning death of Christ, are pardoned.