The Old Testament Solution to the NFL's Ray Rice Problem

Don’t fire him. Keep him on the team and playing with the starters.

Let me explain.

I have yet to see anyone opine that this imbroglio reflects the ongoing problem of race relations in the U.S. but I am not sure why. When did professional sports’ servant leaders come down as hard on white players or managers who also beat their wives? Or when did the public outrage become as heated over white incidents of domestic violence as in this case of Ray Rice? I’ll leave the African-American pastors to figure this one out, but I could see them making a plausible case — except, a big exception, that it is hard to turn Ray Rice into a victim.

But he is (and so is his wife) in a way. Everyone well knows by now that the NFL reversed its decision on Rice once the video went public. Then and only then did the NFL and the Ravens need to save face (in a way that can’t be good for the Rice marriage). And despite the hypocrisy that all those with logs in their own eyes can see in the NFL’s timely dismissal of Rice, most of those same viewers will be right back in the stadiums and in front of their televisions this Thursday night and Sunday afternoon (unless they are Old School Presbyterians), looking past those logs. We Americans love our moral purity even as much as we adore a sport that is riddled with hypocrisy. And here’s the kicker — the hypocrisy of the NFL depends on the hypocrisy of football fans. I assume most fans will be glad for the harsh penalty against Rice, and now will feel the league has achieved enough moral balance to permit ongoing viewing, betting, and fantasy league managing. They may not know it, but unless they give up the game, the NFL’s fans are as much implicated in this face saving as the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.

The Old Testament way of handling this would not have been to seek relief by cutting losses or players. It would have been to treat Ray Rice like King David. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah, what happened to David? Things went south in the family and he and the Israelites suffered for his infidelity. But he remained the dominant figure in the OT narrative, even to the extent that Matthew shows Christ’s genealogical ties to David. What is striking about Matthew’s birth narrative is that he also mentions Uriah. Like the Hebrew narratives, Matthew does not try to shield readers from knowing the worst about their biblical heroes. At the same time, those biblical heroes remain heroes despite their failings.

Americans cannot handle such truth. George Washington never lied. And then he owned slaves and there goes American greatness. Abraham Lincoln was a devout Christian. He has yet to come down from that pedestal (except in certain sectors of the South) even though Lincoln’s beliefs were pretty squishy. The NFL is a great league with a great product. But heaven forbid that the league employs a wife beater as one of its stars.

The best punishment for Rice’s crimes would have been to have him still part of the team and part of the weekend television package. That way the NFL would have had to suffer, along with Rice. And fans would have had to experience the strange mixture of revulsion and delight, offended by Rice’s behavior off the field and ecstatic over his football success. Oh, wretched people that we are.

9 thoughts on “The Old Testament Solution to the NFL's Ray Rice Problem

  1. McMark sent me this quote from Bonhoeffer yesterday and I think it is appropriate for this post:

    Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

    Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.

    Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.

    Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.

    Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.

    The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.

    The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.

    The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

    When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

    —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 114-16.


  2. As a little kid in a fundy church, you soon learn the dirty details about OT characters. So I used to ask about what happened to these details in Hebrews 11. I knew some stuff on these people that either the writer did nor know or was “covering up”. Sure, polygamy and deception in war were not sin then, but I remembered some bad stuff that Moses and Abraham and Noah pulled which was left out of the Hebrews 11 narrative.

    But now I have written my obituary for myself that also leaves out some inconvenient history. Any “theology of the cross” which GLORIES in our “weakness” and sins is not yet about the merits of Christ’s death but about the “us” of our fictions….The pattern of sin we must still confess to God is not the point of the story.

    Romans 4:4 David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
    7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
    8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will NOT COUNT HIS SIN.”

    Hebrews 11: 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

    even so, come Lord Jesus


  3. But why does the NFL consider itself some kind of moral arbiter? The criminal justice system didn’t seem to think much of Rice’s offense. Why, exactly, should he be banned from earning a living at football? If he were a waiter, a pipe fitter, a salesman or a factory worker, he would show up on Monday and go to work. Does the NFL seriously believe that its players are role models who are–consistently!–held to a high moral standard? If so, I reply: Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis is one of the most admired players in NFL history and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame before long. Yet he was involved in a murder case, in which the best that could be said of him was that he didn’t actually wield the knife, but only drove the getaway car and paid off the witnesses. If I had to encounter one of those guys in a dark alley, I would prefer that it be Ray Rice.

    the whole thing here>>


  4. Well, Jack beat me to it after a fashion.
    The NFL has already turned a blind eye and winked at Ray Lewis.
    But not Hernandez and Rice.
    Because they got caught.
    That’s all.
    The natural man is doing what the natural man does.
    Sinning, being hypocritical about it and worshipping idols like the NFL/NBA/NASCAR the rest of the time.
    What else is new/you got a problem with that?
    You must be a legalistic self righteous Christian hypocrite and party pooper.
    Well maybe, but to live without any god, but amusement in this world and no hope for the next would seem to make for a raw deal in the end. Better hope the meantime was worth it.

    As for the OT. Seems like somebody’s daddy would be talking to Ray.
    Like you hurt my baby daughter and I return the favor/she gets to take you to the financial cleaners. That’s what the bride price/dowry was all about if I remember correctly.


  5. Re: Ray Lewis, FTWA–

    During a taped pre-game interview with Shannon Sharpe that aired on CBS before Super Bowl XLVII, Sharpe told Lewis that the families of the slain men find it difficult to see Lewis be idolized by millions of fans, believing he knows more about the killings than he shared. “What would you like to say to the families?” Sharpe asked. Lewis said: “God has never made a mistake. That’s just who He is, you see…. To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, He don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.