Michael Vick, the once dynamic star of the Atlanta Falcons who was kicked out of the NFL for dog fighting (that’s the nice way of describing what he was involved in; this isn’t), is trying to make a football comeback and settle with his debtors. Since his court hearing two summers ago, at which Vick pleaded guilty and claimed he had found Jesus, Vick has sought to rebuild his tattered public image.
Religious repentance is an old trick of troubled celebrities, and I’m not yet sure it has helped redeem Vick.
It’s easy to be cynical—I know I was—but the Rev. Michael Bruner, a Presbyterian minister and adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific, recently wrote for On Faith that we should give Vick the benefit of the doubt.
How can anyone know if the redemption of a person is ever sincere—even if they appear sincere? A cynic will claim that Vick is just faking it. But how does the cynic know? Gainsaying someone’s intentions is a zero-sum game. The proof is in the pudding. It isn’t Vick’s thoughts, after all, that are on trial here, but his actions. If any of us were judged by our thoughts, there wouldn’t be enough prisons in the world to hold the guilty. There is only One who knows the heart, and that final judgment is yet to be decreed.
In the meantime, we advocate for and believe in redemption. How can we not? We’re all counting on it for ourselves, so how can we deny it to others? The Lord’s Prayer casts aspersion on those who seek forgiveness from God but aren’t willing to give it to others in return: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
And the great hymn reminds us of our mutual condition: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
Like me. Like you. Like Vick.
Bruner then makes comparisons to the redemption of the Disciple Peter, now St. Peter, and to Saul of Tarsus, now St. Paul. He doesn’t put Vick on the same level as these Christian giants, but uses them to display that “the road to sainthood, it appears, goes through the valley of wretchedness.”
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