There is a power that comes when you first feel the warmth of the sun. When we step outside to greet the day and are graced by its presence, something changes. Even after rain or long nights, our memory gets wiped by the brushing of yellow across our face. The sun not only eliminates the darkness but also, at least for a moment, makes you forget it happened. That moment of relief, no matter its brevity, transcends our situation.
When Tiger Woods was walking down the fairway of Hole 18 on the final day of the 2019 Masters, I found myself joining him in those ever-bright rays. As a fan strapped into the roller-coaster that has been Tiger the last decade, this particular Masters ended by putting a permanent smile on my face. He finally did it. That heavy weight has been stripped from his back, all but erasing the woes of yesterday. I believe I smiled through the whole night until I woke up Monday and realized, not everyone this morning felt as I did.
The year 2009, more specifically, Thanksgiving Day of that year, is one that Tiger would rather forget. This evening was the evening his wife began to uncover the extra-marital affairs he was committing, and his infamous car wreck into a fire hydrant outside their Florida mansion. Tiger spent the next few weeks and months plastered across the tabloids.
Woman after woman came out publicly and claimed to have had a romantic relationship with the golfer. After a period of silence, Tiger held a press conference to confess his sins to the world, and discuss his obsession with sex, all with his mother sitting in the front row. Can you imagine?
What followed were years of darkness: divorce, rehab, a litany of injuries, and very sporadic golf appearances let alone victories. The news only continued to hound Woods, unveiling his list of mistresses —a list that eventually grew to 17 names. He was also given a couple of DUIs after abusing his prescribed pain medication. It was almost as if he could not go consecutive months without popping up in a headline somehow.
Most people will believe that was the beginning of his downward spiral from grace, but I would argue it was towards the end. Brokenness of that degree rarely happens out of nowhere. It starts with a crack and slowly grows. His surface first cracked in May 2006, amidst a historic run of success in the golfing world, when his father passed away.
Earl Woods was well-known as Tiger’s best friend and confidant, the man who raised and molded Tiger into the player he has become. But it was the life Earl lived outside of fatherhood that impacted Tiger. Earl and his band of retired sailor buddies put heavy pressure on Tiger to pursue a career in the military, rather than golf. Not only that, but the constant string of mistresses Earl collected over the decades gave Tiger a very tainted perception of how marriage and family should look.
When Earl passed in 2006, the whole world soon discovered the apple does, in fact, land pretty close to the tree.
In the days since his 15th major tournament win, I have been struggling to find an appropriate balance between my immense fandom of Tiger and the core values of the faith that I profess. The paparazzi have exposed every detail of this man’s “personal” life, illuminating all of his sins and the aftermath left in their wake. It was not until this particular victory that my two halves clashed, causing me to ask myself, “How can you support a man who has done what he has done?”
When you read the Gospels, you learn that Jesus insists upon finding and redeeming God’s creation within each person--finding the human beneath the sinful outer shell.
We see this very topic addressed in John chapter 8, when Jesus confronts a woman caught in the act of adultery. Adultery is so damaging because its ripple hits so many people beyond the immediate circle. This woman was ripped from the bed of not-her-husband, and drug through the streets, to the feet of Jesus.
While the crowd was demanding to kill her, Jesus turned their attention back to their hearts. Jesus knew this woman had sinned and was far from perfect, and he spoke quite firmly about this topic. But what he was trying to do was to remind the angry mob of their tainted veneer.
By no means was Jesus condoning this woman’s actions. Instead, he chose to see within, to find his daughter, and call her to the life for which she was created. Instead of condemnation, he commanded, “Go and sin no more.”
Yes, Tiger Woods has made grave mistakes. He has hurt many people and has made some truly horrible decisions in his life. No one here is denying that. But this does not make him an irredeemable monster. Instead, just profoundly broken.
The tension that has been causing my heartache falls between Jesus’ command to forgive and extend grace. At the same time, I know the laundry list of names that have been hurt by this man. I feel guilty cheering for Tiger when I know so many women and families were rooting against him on that Sunday. Who am I to discredit their pain? Do I have the power to ask them to forgive and move on? Does forgiving someone mean that we should then actively root for them? What if they have deeply hurt us? It is hard enough to forgive, do we then have to become a member of their fan club?
This tension is created by the age-old mentality that we all have heard, “Forgive and forget.” This idea preaches forgiveness but follows with forgetting and moving on. The heart behind this idea is good, but I believe it to be quite reckless. It goes against what Jesus is calling us to.
When we forget, forgiveness is cheap. Whatever happened, whatever occurred, was trivial enough to slip our minds. This reduces life down to a series of unrelated events. Was forgiveness even necessary? What makes grace so good is remembering what grace covers.
When we can say, “This person did these horrible things that directly affected my life,” and are then able to follow with, “And I forgive them,” a powerful witness bears to the world. The light of Christ shines through our cracks and wounds.
As Christ Followers, we are called to go against the grain. We are called to be different. We are the ones who forgive and dare to remember. We have been given a unique story and choose to share those stories with the world. We do not shrink back in shame and try to ignore what has happened. Instead, we see the difficulties that formed us, and embrace them, knowing God is strong where we are weak. We can forgive while still recognizing the brokenness within. That is the tension all Christians must live within. When the sun hits our face, we smile because it feels so good compared to the cold of the night.
In 1997, when Tiger was a mere 21 years old, he won his first Masters. He then met his father, the man he so desperately wanted to impress, and melted into his arms, weeping on national television. Flash forward to 2019, when Tiger sunk that last putt, fist-pumped towards the crowd, and released a decade old scream that seemed to start from his toes, the pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and doubt visibly slid off his shoulders. He then walked over and lifted his son and cried. It’s when I recall that scene; I get it.
We are to forgive "just as" God forgives us. God forgives and forgets (Isaiah 43:25). We should too! What if they turn around and sin against us again? Jesus answered that too... "forgive again and again and again and again...." Forgive with your "heart..." (think whole self here... Matthew 18:35). Yes... it's difficult... but with God all things are possible. And it's very freeing!
I agree that God forgives AND forgets, and tells us to do the same, as in the Lord's prayer. Scripture tells us that "He remembers them (the transgressions) no more." To me, that means that He CHOOSES not to recall our forgiven transgressions. So, what are we to do? I've heard Christians say they can forgive, but they cannot forget. Well, if you remember others' sins, in what mindset do you remember them? As in, "I will not give you the opportunity to do that again!" Or, smacking your lips at the possibility of seeing them get their "just desserts"? Or, "I"m keeping my eye on you!" Honestly, remembering transgressions only impacts US, never the transgressor. Like some wise person said, "Holding unforgiveness ( or remembering a transgression) is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies." Yes, it only hurts us. Corey TenBoom said it best when one of the cruelest guards in the concentration camp approached her, as a new Christian, and asked her to forgive him. She forced herself to reach out her hand to his, and said, "I cannot forgive you. But, Christ, who lives in me, forgives you." With Him in our hearts we can forgive AND forget. Because, if God Himself forgets, who are we to keep remembering.
Thank you, Tyler, for some great insights into forgiving. It isn't cheap and easy grace. It cost our Lord infinitely more than it will ever cost us to forgive. In "Amish Grace; How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy," (Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher) the following passages are cited as taken literally by most Amish folks: Matt 6:12 “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” and Matt 6:14-15 “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” The idea being that withholding forgiveness separates one from receiving the forgiveness of the Father.
It’s not that I don’t forgive when I look at Tiger Woods. I’ve just lost respect for him. Is that wrong?