The issue of what you think, what you want to believe, about Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis and his past is complicated. Or, is it?
Cleveland – I know how I feel about Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens’ middle linebacker.
He’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who plays for my team’s hated rival, the team I adored until pirated away from my city, and he’s carried that team to heights my Cleveland Browns have never reached.
I’m not conflicted at all on Ray Lewis, the football player.
It is easy and comfortable and natural for me to loathe him.
The problem is, I know I can’t.
As a professing Christian, someone redeemed by grace at about the age the 37-year-old Lewis is now, I’m thankful beyond words for the forgiveness I’ve experienced via Jesus’ death upon the cross.
I believe His sacrifice fully paid the debt for my sins past, present and future, and I believe that same forgiveness is available to anyone who claims Christ’s sacrifice for themselves.
Ray Lewis claims it boldly, as do I, in my own less high-profile way.
And so we are brothers in Christ, Ray Lewis and me.
And, I feel conflicted about that as the Super Bowl approaches and Lewis occupies the stage as a spokesman for the faith we share.
I want him to be humble about the transformation Christ has made in his life. I want him to be remorseful for his past. I want him to be respectful of the families who still grieve the loss of two young men murdered in Atlanta on Jan. 31, 2000.
Instead, I’ve watched Ray Lewis dismiss questions about his past and other questions that arose this week after reports of his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Granted, none of us would embrace being forever judged by the worst moment in our lives. For most, that moment wouldn’t include the murder of two young men.
For Ray Lewis, it does.
What’s more, Lewis was originally charged with those murders before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice. That plea means he either lied to or misled police during their investigation, which preceded the trial of two men who were riding in Lewis’ limousine the night of the murders.
Both men were acquitted.
The murders remain unsolved.
Ray Lewis has lived his life out loud ever since, the same way he preaches the Gospel now.
I know I should celebrate that. I know it’s not for me to judge the authenticity of Ray Lewis’ faith.
I don’t know what he did on that night 13 years ago.
God knows, and Ray Lewis knows, and I know I should leave it to them to reconcile.
When I’m tempted to play prosecutor, I remember that the Bible makes clear, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and that, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Of course, the Bible also says to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit.”
Funny thing, though. When Christ saved me, he didn’t make me a fruit inspector.
Whatever Lewis did, it’s not any worse in God’s view than thoughts that have occasionally crossed – and still occasionally cross – my mind in moments of anger, jealousy or envy.
There are 10 Commandments in the Old Testament, and I acknowledge that at some point in my life, I’ve put every one of them on their back with all the willful force and fury Ray Lewis has brought bear on opposing ball-carriers.
That’s why it lifted an enormous burden of guilt and shame when I personally experienced an amazing distinction: God did not change me so he could love me. He loved me so he could change me.
Typically, it’s easy for me to embrace the joy of others who realize that same truth and reflect that change going forward. When I hear their personal account of a life redeemed, I offer an affirming, “Amen,” or shed a tear in appreciation of the freedom I’ve gained via Christ’s matchless love and forgiveness.
So why do I struggle when that same message comes from a roaring, raging linebacker in a No. 52 Ravens jersey?
Why am I more comfortable with Tim Tebow or Kurt Warner or David Robinson or A.C. Green as my spiritual spokesmen from the world of sports?
I know God can use anyone. That’s pretty clear from the Bible and the mighty works He accomplished through Jacob, a swindler; Moses, a murderer; David, a murderer and an adulterer; and the Apostle Paul, a mass murderer.
Ray Lewis seems a relative choirboy by comparison.
He’s clearly a willing servant, uniquely equipped to enter the inner-city and preach with authenticity about the ramifications of being raised without a father.
God doesn’t often find a motivated volunteer, let alone one like Ray Lewis who’s prepared for action with a message ready to resonate.
Usually, God must shape and prune and prepare such a person throughout their entire life for that exact moment when it suits His divine purpose. If this is Ray Lewis’ time, who am I to take issue with either the message or the messenger?
Yet I still fight the urge to coach him, wishing he’d convey his redemption in a manner more broken than brazen, more peaceful than proud.
Then I think about Christ’s promise, that he “came to set the captives free.”
And I realize that perhaps it’s Ray Lewis who Christ has truly freed from his past, while I sit here holding the key to his empty cell.
Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of The Troy Daily News and co-author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.