Underneath the ‘Linsanity’, beyond all of the hype about his status as an underdog, his Asian-American heritage, and his degree from Harvard, there’s a singular question that characterizes Jeremy Lin’s blossoming career: why does his faith matter?
By now you’ve heard of Lin. He salvaged the Knicks’ season (arguably single-handedly), giving their desperate fans a faint glimpse of hope for what was utterly unimaginable three weeks ago: a run at the playoffs. Now, he’s at the center of a nationwide wave of fanaticism, and people who never watched basketball before in their lives are tuning in regularly to watch him play.
Lin credits God for all of this, but what does that actually mean, to credit God? Does God actually have meaningful relevance to his basketball-playing, other than as a clichéd afterthought in his post-game interviews?
Perhaps his faith makes him play better, or God is somehow divinely intervening in his games (at least in the ones he wins). Lin’s position as point guard, which is responsible for distributing the basketball to the correct players, requires a selflessness that aligns well with his faith. Or it might be that God chose suddenly to lift Lin out of obscurity and mediocrity and into fame and stardom in order to fulfill a grander purpose, such as having Lin be a witness for Christ to his teammates and fans.
But there’s a more nuanced point to be made here. For one, Lin admitted himself in a 2010 interview1 that he still struggles with what it means to “play for God”. There’s a sense that he’s not satisfied with the above explanations, that he’s seeking a more integrative worldview for his faith and career.
Lin is not alone in his plight. Other Christians should be able to relate to Lin in very tangible ways. We may not be as famous or as vocal about our faith as Lin is, but nevertheless, finding a way that our faith fits into our work (or vice-versa), is a constant struggle for believers.
His working worldview, he says, is in his work ethic. In other words, he understands glorifying God to mean giving his best effort in practices and in games. This worldview is popular among Christians, and perhaps especially prevalent at Princeton. In this case, though, the line between God’s glory and personal ambition is not so clear. We don’t know – and perhaps even Lin doesn’t know – at what point he’s pursuing excellence for excellence’s sake, and at what point for God’s. More importantly, the work ethic worldview has the tendency to make faith a justification for hard work, and hard work an obligation of our faith. We feel like we have to work hard, because God gave us this opportunity.
I’d like to offer another worldview for Lin: God is redeeming the culture of basketball through him. Lin’s position in the is a clear example of how God is bringing the fallen world back to its original glory. Lin’s engagement with the (rather than immediately going into ministry, as he had once intended) is a manifestation of God’s mandate to Adam in Genesis to fill and subdue the world. His physical control, his athleticism, and his creative use of his body are glimpses of our bodies in their unadulterated state. Through his public profession of faith, God is redeeming a sports culture plagued with self-glorification and narcissism. This worldview sees Christ’s redemptive work on the cross as changing not only the hearts of men, but also the physical and cultural spheres they occupy.
To the observer, the difference between Lin with the work ethic worldview and Lin with the Gospel worldview will be subtle, almost unnoticeably so, but to Lin himself, the two worldviews will feel entirely different. The former involves God justifying man’s work, while the latter involves man becoming God’s work. The former will place on Lin the pressure of standards and expectations, while the latter would give him the freedom to actually enjoy playing basketball.
We all have our basketball game to play. Like Lin, Christians will have to choose their worldview from a host of options. Among these, the Gospel worldview is the only one that truly lets humans flourish the way God intended.
- http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Faith-and-Fate-of-Jeremy-Lin.html [↩]