Can God Turn His Back on Us?
As a Michigander, you might expect that Michigan teams are where my allegiances might fall in professional athletics. Not the case. My dad was a Milwauke native. He never insinuated that I had to cheer for Wisconsin teams. He didn’t have to. He was the alpha male in the pack. I, the young cub, knew if I had hopes of one day leading my own pack, I too should “back the Pack” so to speak. Consequently, for no indigenous reason whatsoever, I became a die hard fan of the same teams to which the man who taught me what sports were about was allied. Enter the character who embodied the fun of professional sports more than any athlete in the modern era — Brett Favre.
I remember Brett taking over after Don Majkowski’s injury and leading the Packers to victory immediately. He never looked back. Brett was now on the path to one of the most legendary football careers in NFL history, a path that included a record three consecutive league MVP’s, two trips to the SuperBowl and one victory, and breaking just about every conceivable passing record.
It isn’t often that little old Green Bay, the country’s only community-owned professional sports team, or Wisconsin for that matter, can boast a personality that causes everyone in the country to say, “I wish we had that.” Packer Backers cherished every moment of it. Sunday after Sunday Favre would display his gunslinger mentality, his cannon arm, and his uncanny knack for turning nothing into something spectacular on the field. Cheeseheads would beam with pride (imagine what it takes to cause someone wearing a 3 lb. foam cheese wedge on their head to feel proud). Favre made Wisconsin sports relevant. He made life for those in the dairy state (and transplants everywhere) exciting. He was a legend and a hero. He was treated like a god.
And then the debacle of 2008. After a superb season, the Packers made it to the NFC Championship game. They hosted the New York Giants at home in freezing temperatures. Brett looked like an old man the whole game and a costly interception(the one career-long kink in the warrior’s armor) was the last image Packer fans were left with from an otherwise magical season.
Brett would announce in a press conference not too long after that he’d finally decided it was time to hang it up. Having watched him in the NFC Championship game, I couldn’t blame him. However, Brett’s retirement lasted all of, well until June rolled around and Brett said he still had the desire and skill to play. However, the team had moved on without him. General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy had already handed over the reigns of the Packers to the highly talented but unproven Aaron Rodgers, who had been being groomed for the past three years on the sidelines as Favre’s replacement. It didn’t sit well with Favre. Instead of sticking with his word, Brett still wanted to play. More than that though, it was obvious that Brett wanted to stick it to Thompson, McCarthy and anyone associated with the Packers (including fans) and prove to them that he could still play.
So, Brett packed up his Wranglers and good ole’ Mississippi boy attitude and headed out to big New York City to play for the Jets. It was no secret that Favre wanted to play in the same division as the Packers, with the Vikings, to take vengeance on the Packers, but the Green Bay organization made sure that wouldn’t happen.
After a season that started quite promising, Brett fizzled towards the end. The stated reason was an injured shoulder. Call it what you want, but he looked like an old man for the last four games of the season, just as he had looked at the end of the previous season. Failing to make the playoffs with the Jets, Brett once again retired. This time, Brett’s retirement lasted all of, well, until August rolled around. The Minnesota Vikings came calling and desperately needed an experienced quarterback to “manage” a very good team. Brett wanted a chance to exact revenge on all whom he had perceived to have written him off as too old to effectively play at 40. At the time this is being written, Brett and the Vikings have beaten the Packers twice in the 2009 regular season. With both teams in the playoffs, they could meet again. The losses meant the division title this season for the Packers organization. For Packer fans though, the reality is, the games themselves were heart-breaking.
It wasn’t really all that much about the score, or the loss, or the playoffs, or the season. For me, it was about an icon whom I’d looked up to for the past 16 years having such an enormous ego and chip on his shoulder that he wanted to take the negative feelings of this bruised ego out on the Packers. Frankly, I don’t care if it was a shot directed at Thompson and McCarthy, the blast hit all of us Packer fans. For the Cheeseheads, to see Favre in Viking purple was to see a ‘god’ (I hope you understand I mean in the non-religious sense) turning his back on us. It hurt. It was utterly disenchanting.
It got me thinking, if a figure who I had so closely identified as being “on my side” all my life could so decisively turn his back on me, could God do the same?
After thinking about it for awhile, I recalled numerous times in Scripture when God says the exact opposite. Apparently God knew that sinful humans in a sinful world would be accustomed to getting betrayed and feeling betrayed by one another time and time again. As a result, he goes out of his way to tell his people that he’s different. He always makes good on his promises and he promises that he will never leave us. Even God’s Name in the Bible, the one where we see all capital letters — the LORD — is a name that indicates to us that we have a God who faithfully keeps his covenants with his people, i.e. that he won’t turn his back on us. When Moses is nearing death and about to pass the leadership of the Children of Israel over to Joshua, he makes a farewell address to the Israelites where he tells them that God will not leave them. He says once to the Israelites and once to Joshua himself this message: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). If we think there’s a chance that maybe this is just a specific situation to the Israelites at the time and we want further proof of God’s refusal to ever turn his back on us, we can look at Christ’s own words. The last recorded words in Matthew’s Gospel is a comforting promise from Jesus. When he’s given the Great Commission and is about to ascend into heaven, he says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
He’s not going anywhere. God is more loyal than any friend, family member, or iconic quarterback with a big ego. He doesn’t seek vengeance. He seeks for all men to be saved through faith in his Son, Jesus, that all may come to the knowledge of his truth. He has given us a choicel. We have the ability, if we choose, to turn our backs on him. But why would we want to? The LORD will never turn his back on us.