NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Michael Vick, the gifted former quarterback for the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, has been sentenced to 23 months in prison because of his conviction related to a dog-fighting network that, by his own admission, included gambling and killing dogs that fought.
His Dec. 10 sentencing follows his guilty plea last August for charges that often have dominated sports news, sports bars, sports blogs and fan discussions at the office water cooler. Many people were asking, publicly and privately, explicitly and implicitly:
— Can Michael Vick be forgiven for what he did?
— Can the fans forgive him?
— Can the owners of the Falcons forgive him?
— Can his teammates forgive him?
— Can the city of Atlanta forgive him?
It became apparent that forgiveness, as a biblical concept, is misunderstood. Some people think forgiveness comes with conditions. Others think forgiveness is the equivalent of letting the offender off the hook or condoning what he’s done. Many seem to think forgiveness somehow minimizes the offense or that it treads tritely on the hurt the offense has caused.
This first caught my attention when a friend of Michael Vick’s, appearing on ESPN, said he told the quarterback, and I’m paraphrasing, “If Jesus is your Lord, and you really believe in Him, and you’ve asked Him for forgiveness, then you are forgiven. He’s fully forgiven you.”
As we say in the South, that’ll preach! It lines right up with 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).
But then this well-intentioned friend added, if Vick continues walking in righteousness, God also will return all the things taken away from the athlete -– his NFL career, his million-dollar contracts, his star quality -– and would return it all to him twofold.
I have to admit, that’s a comforting and encouraging thought for anyone in the middle of a mess, particularly one as monumental and public as Vick’s current circumstances. But it’s not a biblical thought.
Forgiveness is not a contract with God, as in, “You forgive me and I get my old life back.” Forgiveness is God’s choice; it emerges from His infinite love. He paid a bloody, costly price to forgive us, and “proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8, HCSB).
In other words, God will forgive you for what you have done, but He most likely won’t remove the consequences of what you have done. God forgives fully and unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean we won’t reap what we have sown: The crisis pregnancy remains, the prosecution takes place, the job is lost, or the death occurs.
God often will bring our sin to light because he’s trying to bring us back to Him. When God’s consuming fire of love forces our bad behaviors and attitudes out of the shadows, we’re able to see clearly how far we’ve moved away from God’s purpose for our lives, and the crisis this compels us to journey back to God (consider Isaiah 6).
Oswald Chambers, the Scottish minister who wrote the classic book, “My Utmost for His Highest,” describes God as “the Great Engineer” who is much more interested in the eternal consequences of our decisions than He is in such temporary matters as where we work, how we look or what we can keep hidden (consider Jeremiah 1:13-19; Luke 12:2-3).
Vick says his present circumstances -– his conviction -– led him to Christ. And with that, we can see how the Great Engineer is right there with us in crisis. No matter how monumental the crisis may seem, it is not beyond God’s ability to redeem it (Jeremiah 29:11).
When considering Vick’s colossal, earthly losses -– the height from which he fell -– is it conceivable that those losses are minor compared to Vick missing out on an eternity with God, the Heavenly Father? Or is it possible that those losses will one day seem minor to Vick when the truth of God takes deep root within him: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37 NKJV; also, consider Philippians 3:8.)
Here’s the thing: Michael Vick is worth more to God than any NFL contract, more than temporary fame, more than any way we measure glory and legendary status.
And, if that’s true for Michael Vick, then it’s true for you, too. You’re worth more to God than all the wealth in and out of the NFL. God shows how much He values you in this way: “He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, MSG).
This article is excerpted from the downloadable book, “Should We Forgive Michael Vick?” — available at www.GraceCreates.com. The 23-page book about the biblical basis for forgiveness is formatted for individual Bible study or group discussion. Jon Walker writes the on-line Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotionals. He is the former pastor of communications at Saddleback Church and the former editor-in-chief of HomeLife magazine.