In a press conference this week, Nick Saban turned his podium into a pulpit and took us all to church. If you haven’t seen the video yet, Saban went on a refreshing rant in defiance of our graceless culture, advocating for second chances when players fail.
Lotta good stuff in this from Nick Saban on players who get in trouble pic.twitter.com/x7OmV6wlpD
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) August 26, 2019
As I listened, I found myself thinking an impossible thought: Nick Saban sounds like Jesus.
What makes it particularly compelling, and the reason I think it has resonated with so many, is that Saban has the deserved reputation of a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, old-school leader. His demands for his players and coaches are high, and he isn’t afraid to let them have it (sometimes publicly) when those demands are not met. And when someone like that is the same one advocated for grace, the message bears a unique significance. This ain’t Mr. Rogers talking forgiveness; this is the toughest man in football. And it’s this strange convergence of strength and benevolence that reminded me of Jesus.
If we chose one adjective to describe Jesus, I’m willing to bet “love” would be at the top of the list, and rightfully so. But how is love defined? This is the dilemma with love. It’s something we struggle to understand, let alone practice. As a Christian, I believe love is perfectly embodied in Jesus. And John 1:14 describes Jesus as one who is “full of grace and truth.” This rare combination of grace and truth is the essence of love.
Grace without truth is enabling. Truth without grace is bullying. But grace and truth together is loving.
There are a lot of people who define love as merely grace: never confronting always excusing. And they tend to enable the ones they think they are loving. Then there are those with a tough-love mentality that is merely truth: never excusing always confronting. And they tend to bully the ones they think they are loving. But when you look at the life of Jesus, what you will find is the perfect balance of grace and truth.
His grace is astounding. So much patience, gentleness, kindness, mercy, forbearance, etc. But if your view of Jesus is that he is therefore spineless, then you don’t know Jesus. He was equally devoted to truth. Never shy to confront, rebuke, correct, admonish, challenge, etc. Honestly, it’s tough to tell whether Jesus prioritized grace or truth more, which is precisely the point. He is full of both; therefore, he is full of love.
As you apply this definition of love to your own life, what you will probably discover is that you tend toward one of the two. Some gravitate toward grace, others toward truth. I’ll speak on behalf of those you are called to love and tell you that they are desperate for you to practice the other. That’s not to say you necessarily compromise grace or truth, but that you improve upon the one you struggle with.
Some of you think you are loving others, when in fact, you are enabling them. It’s not that love is calling you to give up on grace, only that those you love need more truth from you. Others of you think you are loving others, when in fact, you are bullying them. It’s not that love is calling you to give up on truth, only that those you love need more truth from you.
Granted, the tension of grace and truth is hard to practice, but in the end, love is worth it.
I never thought I’d learn a lesson on love from Nick Saban, but then again, in my Bible reading this morning I read about God speaking through Balaam’s donkey. So I suppose if he could speak through one ass, well then…