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Lessons from Tiger

Shortly after Aileen and I were married we moved to the small town of Dundas, Ontario. A historic and picturesque town, Dundas has made its way into a few movies. When we lived there, a movie called Haven (starring Natasha Richardson) was shot in its streets. We lived just half a block from the action so would sometimes wander on over in the evenings to watch what was happening.

One thing that fascinated and impressed me was how the filmmakers transformed the town to fit the setting of the film. The movie was set in the Second World War so for the sake of historical accuracy the town had to look like it had during the 1940’s. All the parking meters had to be pulled up and all the traffic lights had to be pulled down. The streets were suddenly filled with beautiful old antique cars. Many of the storefronts were little changed since the 40’s but of course there were some that had been built since and could not possibly pass the historic test. It was amazing to see what happened to these ones. In a matter of a couple of days the props people constructed false fronts for all of these stores. An ugly stucco building that was clearly a product of the 70’s or 80’s was transformed into a brick-built small-town general store from the 40’s. Nothing had changed inside, but the outside was given a fresh and entirely deceptive new face.

One of the climactic scenes of the movie has the lead character marching a large number of Jewish refugees through the town. They shot this scene and a few others and then, nearly overnight, the town was restored. The parking meters were put back into place, the traffic lights were strung back up, the old cars were hauled away and all those false fronts were torn down. The ugly buildings were exposed again, as ugly as ever. The movie, anti-American propaganda as it turns out, was awful. But that’s beside the point.

I was thinking about Tiger Woods this weekend and thought about the town of Dundas and all of those false fronts. I’ve hesitated to write about Tiger. First of all, his travails are reaching the point of media saturation, I think. His story has been glamorized and made into a sick form of entertainment. Of course it’s exactly the kind of entertainment our culture loves. We love reality shows which, by and large, are only pseudo-reality. We get to watch families fall apart on television and consider it entertaining. But even then the situations are only half real at best. But here we get to see a real family crumble. Their pain is our delight as we watch things turn from bad to worse. Yet here we are all seeing the ugly effects of sin and maybe it is a good opportunity to reflect for just a few moments on the nature of sin and the cost it demands from us. It proved an opportunity for me to think about Tiger’s situation and draw lessons from it.

Here are three lessons I have learned from Tiger Woods.

False Fronts Will Crumble
There is always this temptation to construct false fronts, to add a layer of respectability between yourself and the way you want others to perceive you. Tiger Woods wanted to be known as the all-American family man, a loving husband and doting father. His sponsors, the companies for whom he was a spokesman, needed him to be this kind of figure. And so he said all the right words and put on this veneer of respectability. In front of the cameras he played the role that was demanded and expected of him. And yet behind it all he was the opposite of so much that he claimed to be. Eventually and inevitably the false front collapsed and the truth was laid bare.

Imagine what would have happened in Dundas if the filmmakers had disappeared without tearing down those false fronts. Sure they would have stood for a month or two; maybe even a year or two. But before long they would have crumbled and fallen down. They were not build of sound materials and were not built on a solid foundation. They were made only to look the part, only to disguise the ugly and unfitting reality. All false fronts will eventually crumble and fall.

The lesson is, do not mask your sin behind a false front. Do not construct elaborate falsehoods to mask your sin and your shame. These false fronts cannot stand forever. And the shame and pain of the ruin of a life lived out behind false pretenses will be far worse than the shame and pain of just dealing with sin immediately and properly. The temptation to mask your sin is nearly as strong as the temptation to sin in the first place. But to mask it is just to compound sin upon sin. It is merely to delay the inevitable.

You Cannot Hide Your Sin Indefinitely
Sooner or later your sin will find you out. Just weeks before all of his sins were revealed and his life was laid bear, Tiger conducted an interview in which he insisted that family comes first in his life. “Family first and golf second. Always be like that?” asked the interviewer. “Always,” replied Woods. Yet even then he was in the midst of affairs. Even then he was telling bare-faced lies, thinking that he could get away with them.

The lesson is, you cannot hide your sin forever. Your sin is going to find you out. Your sin wants to find you out. I love how J.R.R. Tolkien displays this in The Lord of the Rings, how the ring puts the ringbearer under its spell but at the same time it wants nothing more than to captivate and expose and destroy him. Its beauty and desire is really a means to enslave and expose. And all sin is like this. It promises what it can never truly deliver. It offers the desires of the heart but delivers the most tragic and unexpected results.

Do not give yourself over to sin. Sin is a cruel, cruel master. Like that ring it will draw you in and like that ring it will chew you up and spit you out. And isn’t this what Satan loves? Wouldn’t he love to draw you into sin and then enjoy watching you suffer the downfall of that sin? Do not give yourself over to sin; inevitably you will find that it is impossible to hide it forever.

The Stage Will Be Bigger
Tiger Woods committed sins against God and sins against his wife and did so in a closed and private setting. Very few people knew about his sin and very few were there to witness it. The actual sins were committed in private on a small, intimate stage. But the stage for his fall is international. Where only the smallest handful of people knew about his sin while it was happening, today countless millions know about it. The other day in the grocery store I spotted his face on eight of the ten magazines by the checkout. People are calling this the sports story of the decade. It will follow him for the rest of his life. His family will never be the same. Surely he did not anticipate all of this when he indulged his sin.

The lesson here is that the stage for the fall is usually infinitely larger than the stage that was used to act out the sin. Private sins are so often publicly exposed. Think of people you know, perhaps in a church context, who have sinned against their families. So often they sinned in private but were exposed in public. So often their disgrace was so much wider than their initial pleasure. And again, this is exactly what we should expect of sin and of Satan. Sin’s pleasure is fleeting, its pain eternal.

Tiger’s sin teaches me that the Bible does not lie when it describes the cause of sin, the effect of sin and the inevitability of its exposure. Had Tiger just read the first nine chapters of Proverbs and applied those ancient but timeless lessons to his life, he would have known all he needed to know to understand where his sin would lead him. How much better would it have been for Tiger to be mastered by God instead of being mastered by sin.