I’m sure my ESPN buddies (and perhaps their wives and girlfriends) have come across the story of Ted Williams, a homeless man wrecked by drugs and alcohol who has now been hired and housed by the Cleveland Cavaliers due to his ‘million-dollar-voice’ talent. While not dressed for television success, Williams has a great voice that would shock anyone once they saw the man such a voice came from. Williams is grateful to God for this opportunity and seems genuinely humbled (as almost any homeless person might feel).
Williams will make the rounds on talk shows, ESPN (specifically Outside the Lines), and maybe even the church curcuit. It’s a heart-warming story that speaks of the good will of humanity, our culture, and even of major corporations such as a professional sports team.
While I appreciate these stories as much as anyone, I am left wondering how inspiring such stories really are. Moreso, I think of how the gospel story is so much greater than even the story of Ted Williams. As a man who has nothing physically appealing, who is homeless, and a former drug addict/alcoholic, Williams has a voice that is unique, but it is no more unique than hundreds of other voice talents. Perhaps he received preferential treatment being a homeless man. That is fine, but Williams is only given an opportunity because his own talent merited such. In other words, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t just decide to show charity and mercy to a homeless man who has to wrestle with personal demons. They showed charity to an individual who could immediately offer things back (publicity, gratefulness, and voice talent).
Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but the gospel would have us realize that God’s relationship to us is more inspiring! While a culture’s own doctrine of election is based somewhat on the benefit and merit of an individual, God looks a person and sees nothing that they can offer him. Their only merit is their demerit. Paul makes this point in Rom 3:10-18, describing how none are good – none seek after God. (At least Williams has a good attitude about him and was looking for a job.)
It’s great when ESPN and other enterainment and news outlets take a break from the common narcissism of celebrities and athletes. But these stories should give Christians time to reflect on a greater story and a greater doctrine of election. This better story may be shared with our culture, which itself is committed to its own doctrine of justification (a justification of works, minus faith).
Thankfully, Paul speaks the truth in Eph 2:1-20
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”