Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015
Half of you are probably thinking right now, “Who?” For all those non-sports-junkies out there, Arian Foster is a Pro Bowl running back for the Houston Texans. He’s been injured, and had some off-field problems in recent years, but he’s still one of the top running backs in the NFL. But now he’s known for something else: He did an interview for ESPN magazine (“The Confession of Arian Foster,” Aug 17, 2015) in which he publicly declared that he does not believe in God. His brother calls him “the anti-Tebow”!
Quick background: Foster was raised a Muslim,
was exposed to American ‘cultural Christianity,’ and sought for truth as a teenager. He didn’t find it. Instead, he found hypocrisy, even in himself. He prayed five times-a-day, facing east…but felt he was living a lie each time he did. He read the Bible and Quran in search of truth…but God just didn’t make sense.
In college at the University of Tennessee, he was the only member of the team who didn’t identify as a Catholic or Christian. But what he saw was more dried-up formal religion. Tennessee’s head football coach Phil Fulmer took his team to church on Sundays for “team-building exercises,” which just more deeply entrenched Foster’s distaste for all things religious. Playing professionally in Bible-belt Houston has been more of the same. “I get the devil-worship thing a lot,” Foster says. He doesn’t care what others think; he just doesn’t believe in God.
At this point, a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction might be to view Foster as an arrogant pagan. But you’d be wrong. Unlike so many who unthinkingly either reject or casually accept some religious affiliation today, Foster thinks about what he believes. Right now, he can’t understand how God – if there is a God – does things. He asks questions like Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation? In other words, he is asking questions a lot of professing Christians are afraid to ask!
What is striking is that Foster has a close friendship with a devout Christian Justin Forsett, another NFL running back who played one season in Houston (he now plays for the Baltimore Ravens). Forsett knew Foster was not a believer, but never defensively said “Hey man, you’re going to hell.” When Foster made comments or asked questions, Forsett listened, engaged him in discussion, told him what he believed, said he would love Arian to experience what a relationship with God meant, and that he would pray for him. No judging, no condemnation. Says Forsett: “Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith. He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge.”
And that’s why I appreciate Arian Foster. In a day in which – as one quip has put it, ‘5% of people think, 10% of people think they think, and 85% of people would rather die than think!’ – Foster is willing to think. No, he hasn’t worked through it all…and right now, he’s taken some detours that all lead to dead-ends. But if you ask me, I’d rather someone think about whether or not there is a God, instead of blindly following church dogma, or a famous religious leader.
I think of another man who, like Foster, was an atheist, looking for meaning and truth in a world full of evil. He was running from God, too. I’m thinking of C.S. Lewis, who lived rational and idealistic atheism…until the day he believed. In his own words: You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England (Surprised By Joy, ch.14).
The lesson in all this? Two things. First, before we believe in Jesus, we’re all running from God: There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God (Rom.3.11). On our own, we’d never come to faith. But the good news is that God can outrun us! And that leads to the second lesson: Never give up on someone who challenges your faith. God didn’t give up on you before you believed! They’re searching for truth, not easy answers. Talk to them, listen to their questions, and let them see the answers in your words and deeds.
Who will you ‘show and tell’ about God’s love, and Jesus dying for their sin…this week?
Note: If you want to be better prepared to engage unsaved friends in discussion about God and truth, and to answer their questions, the Growing in Discipleship course is for you! Sign up for the Comal County Fair outreach training on Sunday, September 20th, 1-3 pm, or Tuesday, September 22nd, 7-9