JIM DENISON, PHD
NFL quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement from the sport yesterday. (For an excellent analysis of his decision and its life lessons for us, see Dr. Ryan Denison’s article, “Tom Brady retires again: The cost of holding on to success for too long.”)
Brady’s decision is unusual on three levels.
First, it comes a year to the day after he retired last year only to change his mind and return for his twenty-third season. Not many people retire twice from the same job.
Second, most players retire because they can no longer play the game well enough to compete as they once did. Not so with Brady: Even though he was the oldest active player in the NFL this season, he threw for 4,694 yards, the third most in the league, while completing 66.8 percent of his passes.
Third, it would seem that Brady was no longer satisfied with the direction of his life and career. This makes him an outlier in our society.
According to Gallup, 85 percent of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives. This contrasts with only 17 percent who are satisfied with the direction of their country (the number has recently risen to 23 percent).
What explains this wide disparity between the way we view our country and the way we view our personal lives?
The “big thing” a society must get right
David Brooks responds to our question in The Atlantic: “My basic take is that life in America today is objectively better than it was before but subjectively worse. We have much higher standards of living and many conveniences, but when it comes to how we relate to one another—whether in the realm of politics, across social divides, or in the intimacies of family and community life—distrust is rife, bonds are fraying, and judgments are harsh.”
However, Brooks believes that, despite all the gloom about our nation at present, “a society can get a lot wrong as long as it gets the big thing right. And that big thing is this: If a society is good at unlocking creativity, at nurturing the abilities of its people, then its ills can be surmounted.”
Next he surveys the ways America has been “unlocking creativity” in her people, from raising productivity and living standards to investing in education, helping people live healthier, longer, and more energetic lives, and creating an excellent innovation infrastructure.
Brooks notes: “If there is one lesson from the events of the past year, it is that open societies such as ours have an ability to adapt in a way that closed societies simply do not. Russia has turned violent and malevolent. China has grown more authoritarian and inept. Meanwhile, free democratic societies have united around the Ukrainians as they battle to preserve the liberal world order.”
“Pushed from the public square”
Brooks’ claim that humans are satisfied with our lives if we have an opportunity to unlock our creativity is both reasoned and biblical. You and I were created in the image and likeness of our Creator (Genesis 1:27) and called to “work” and “keep” his creation (Genesis 2:15). While work became more difficult as a result of the fall (Genesis 3:17–19), partnering with our Creator by advancing his creation was always part of his plan for us.
The problem comes when we decouple this partnership. Satan tempts us every day to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) by taking over God’s creation as if it were our own and doing with it what we wish, all the while refusing to acknowledge the One who owns all that exists.
As one example, the London School of Economics will remove Christian words from its calendar next year. Christmas break will be “winter break,” Lent term will be “winter term,” and Easter break will be “spring break.”
Simon Calvert, deputy director at The Christian Institute, responded: “We have been warning for years that Christians are being pushed from the public square, yet the problem is getting worse.” He added, “Christians and those with traditional views often find themselves silenced or bullied. It’s particularly ironic when this happens at institutions that were originally founded on Christian principles and with endowments from Christian benefactors.”
“When he appears we shall be like him”
How can you and I resist this Satanic and secular pressure to fulfill our creative desires apart from our Creator? One key is to recognize that we are still being created.
If you have trusted in Christ as your Lord, his Spirit dwells in you as God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) so that “Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10). Now your Father wants Christ to be “formed in you” (Galatians 4:19, my emphasis) so that you are “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29, my emphasis).
We are not complete until we are completely like Christ. This will not happen until Jesus comes for us: “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). On that day, “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
In the meantime, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). If you want to be more like Christ today than you were yesterday, spend time worshiping Christ today. Then ask the Holy Spirit to make you like Jesus. He will reveal sins to be confessed, steps to be taken, and service to be rendered. And he will empower you to do all he leads you to do.
A binary choice
Every day, you and I face a binary choice with eternal consequences: we can seek to be like God’s Son, or we can seek to be our own God. As fallen human beings, if we are not intentionally seeking the former, we are by default choosing the latter.
Max Lucado noted, “Our highest pursuit is the pursuit of our Maker.”
How passionately will you pursue your Maker today?