September 13, 2012
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I was an award-winning athlete as a child. I know this is shocking considering the present state of my athletic ability. Back then, my physical prowess gave me the necessary edge to dominate my competition. I’m serious. No ‘roids necessary; my body was a blue ribbon winning machine. My sport of choice? Barefoot Marble Relay. Psh! I just blew your mind didn’t I?! Fill a kiddie pool with marbles and water and I will remove those suckers faster than lightning using only my feet. They used to call me Tim “Monkey-toes” Norton. 1 point for the little marbles, 5 points for the giant marbles and I would dominate!
Put a basketball in my hands, though, and I was a hot mess of wannabe athleticism. So, while I was very familiar with the fame and glory associated with Barefoot Marble Relay, I was much more familiar with the lovely little you-did-a-good-job-but-you-lost-but-we-still-want-to-give-you-a-prize-cause-everyone’s-a-winner-in-elementary-school-so-don’t-think-about-losing-even-though-you-lost green ribbon for participation. Were any of us fooled by those as kids? I mean, come on. We knew what was up. It’s blue ribbon for first place, red for second, white for third, and green…green for the losers. The green ribbon was the consolation prize. It was a way of making up for the fact that our original plan of complete athletic domination failed miserably. And while the green ribbon was better than nothing, it didn’t fill the void of a blue ribbon. No consolation prize could satisfy the thirst for victory.
This summer, I spent a lot of time sitting with the phrase “functional savior.” You see, on paper and by confession, I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. On paper, I know that my identity is first and foremost a child of the Living God. On paper, I know that God’s merciful approval is far more important than what my friends think of me. The problem is that I don’t act like it. For far too long I have treated God like a consolation prize when my primary sources of identity, security, and worth failed me. Rejected by girls? Well, I guess God loves me. Didn’t get as many compliments on that sermon as I would’ve liked? Well, I guess God is in control. If I only had ________, I’d be happy…but since that’s not gonna happen anytime soon, maybe God could help in the meantime. My primary source of approval, security, and identity more often than I care to admit is not God. Deep down I look to peer-approval and personal performance to find security, only turning to God at the moments when those “functional saviors” (aka idols) fail me. I can’t tell you how many times I have cheered myself with up with a sheepish “I know *such and such* didn’t work out…but hey…at least God loves you.”
To be sure, God is most certainly the one to whom we should turn in moments of hurt and disappointment. But the subtle juxtaposition of turning to God as our primary source of comfort as opposed to turning to God when our primary source of comfort isn’t comforting should not be missed. I cannot shake this idea this tragically ironic image of idolatry and functional saviors relegating God, the Living God–maker of the Universe, to the role of consolation prize, or backup plan, or the safety net in our quest for fulfillment. Where do I find my identity? What occupies most of my thoughts? How do I find my significance in life? My prayer is that I may continue to learn how to truly live the reality of Jesus Christ as the answer to these questions. My prayer is that God will not be a green ribbon in my life anymore.
Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.