Falls from Grace

Tiger Wood’s tired mug shot appeared in the pages of the newspapers mere hours after his arrest early on the morning of the 29th of May. The overwhelming message to fans and detractors alike was this: Tiger’s return to glory isn’t going well.

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, Tiger Woods meteoric rise in his late teens to his titanic collapse in his late thirties is pure drama. I remember watching Tiger Woods chipping in at the 2005 Masters, fulfilling the eager expectation of the watching crowd. You really could not have written that script. The thought back then was, “if anyone can, Tiger can.”

Tiger was the perfect image of the equation that hard work + natural talent = success. In his case: stunning success. And then it all went wrong. Spectacularly wrong. As news spread that all wasn’t well in his personal life in 2009, first the sponsors fell away and then too the athletic form that propelled him to stardom abandoned him. He went, as the saying goes, from hero to zero.

Tiger’s body, pushed hard for many years, was failing him. There were multiple surgeries attempting to solve this. All the while the world hoped for a revival. Underneath the shell of a broken man, was still a Tiger who stormed the world. He defied convention once, and broke all the rules; surely he could do it again?

But the continued failed and delayed comebacks threatened the great collective optimism of his fans. And then Monday happened. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then Tiger’s arrest photo was a polished closing argument from the sneering opposing counsel.

The media pounced. And the people followed. I felt sorry for Tiger. Reading the report, it didn’t seem fair. I sympathise with Martin Kymer’s words in defence of Tiger:

“I find it so nasty that people just kick him while he’s already on the floor, and at the end of the day it’s just using someone else for your own sadness.”

“”He inspired kids, teenagers; he inspired all of us.”

Idols and Hope

It seems wrong that the same people who ride the wave of euphoria of someone else’ success can then turn on that same person and snub them when they’re low.

It seems two-faced, but I wonder if in fact the two actions are linked. I wonder what the people who watched and applauded the success in awe of the feats of this man were in fact celebrating. Was it the success, or was it the man?

Put it this way, what was the object of their worship?

When we worship (and to find what you worship, start by looking at what you celebrate) people because of what they give us, then when they fail us we feel betrayed. Tiger created the wave, and then the wave crashed upon the beach leaving people emotionally bedraggled.

Ok, so it might now have looked so unkempt on the surface, but ask, ‘what was going on underneath?’ Why is it so hard to praise someone for great feats and then not snarl at them when they fall from greatness?

Surely it would be far healthier to admire the success, decry the failings, but throughout both, respect the person?

But people who are worshipped are not respected. They are demanded to behave in a certain way, and when they don’t they fail more than themselves; they fail us to. And we don’t forgive our fallen idols easily.

Redefining Success and Failure

Another way of seeing this story, and unfortunately the many, many others like it, is to look beyond the immediate. Tiger Woods’ story shows us many things about reality. It shows us the hope of success and triumph, and that is good. And equally it shows us failure, and shame, and they are bad.

Tiger Woods has achieved great success and has known great failure. What then is the status of him? How would you brand Tiger Woods?

But haven’t we all as well each achieved some measure of success and failure? And how do we brand each other? Is the public outcry against Tiger Woods not an echo of the self-indictment we all secretly fear?

Success and failure point beyond themselves to ultimate success and ultimate failure. The Christian knows the freedom of self-judgement that faith in Jesus brings. We aren’t judged on our success or our failures, but on the success of Jesus alone. What the world saw as failure, Jesus Christ on a cross, was the free gift of success to all who believe.

Our heroes in this life will all fail us in some way at some time. So let’s look beyond them to an anchored hope that will never, ever let us down.