Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Spiritual Journey of Aaron Rodgers

Two thousand nine, week eight, Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings, and there was a fire burning in the hearts of millions of Packer fans as Brett Favre, girded in purple and white strode onto Lambeau field. The unthinkable had happened. 

I loved Brett Favre. I had watched him since I was eight years old, turning a team from total failure to incredible victory. He was our hero. No one played the position like Favre did. Yet he had turned against us. 

Now we had a new hero. His name? Aaron Rodgers. I wanted that game so badly. I wanted to win. But Favre and the Vikings overcame us. Yet from that day on we had a new hero. Aaron Rodgers. We believed in him. And he would not disappoint. 

Over the years Rodgers has fought in Green Bay for another title after the incredible 2010 season, but in recent years under Matt Lafleur the Packers have come up short, with the 2022 season ending in an 8-9 record, missing the playoffs by a single game. 

As Aaron Rodgers considers what to do next in his career, I've asked myself this question: Who is Aaron Rodgers really? 

I think to understand someone at their roots, at their base level, we have to understand where they are spiritually, philosophically. Aaron Rodgers was raised in California. A huge 49ers fan. But did you know Aaron Rodgers was also a young man raised with faith? It's true. And as he entered the NFL that Christian faith remained an important part of his life. 

In fact Aaron Rodgers himself shared with a friend of mine, Major Bob Mueller, of The Salvation Army, how his mom had taken him growing up to volunteer at The Salvation Army.

Major Bob Mueller was the officer at The Salvation Army in the Green Bay area, and Aaron had reached out and set up an event that is now held annually, where Packer players sign autographs and the fans pay for them, with the proceeds going to support those in need. 

Major Bob asked Aaron when they met, "Why are you doing this Aaron?" And Aaron said growing up his mom had taken him to volunteer at The Salvation Army in his hometown. So he wanted to give back.

For many years in his life Aaron Rodgers considered himself a Christian, a follower of Jesus, one who trusted the Bible, the word of God, and saw hope in an eternal life beyond the grave.

However, over time, his faith dwindled and increasingly questions and skepticism replaced it. This isn't particular uncommon. We all face those challenges in our spiritual journey. 

Like the traveler in the Pilgrim's Progress, we all eventually make our way through "vanity fair" where the various offerings of the world system are dangled before the weary travelers. 

Think of Brett Favre, not a man of faith for many years, a college star from down south, but, something changed for Brett after his retirement. God wove the strands of his story together, from his humble start in Atlanta, to Green Bay, to victories, concussions, opioid addiction, the death of his father, the bitter battles with retirement and the Packer organization, but finally, he hit a bottom of sorts, and he gave his life to Jesus Christ.

At his induction into the Hall of Fame he wore a gold jacket, yet spiritually he also wore the righteousness of the Messiah when he said, "Thank you Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

Many of us Christians were amazed and excited by this declaration by Brett Favre. Given his friendship with Aaron Rodgers, perhaps Brett could help disciple Aaron in the future.

In any case after Brett's declaration at the Hall of Fame, many of us wondered where Rodgers was at with his faith. 

Aaron Rodgers came out discussing his views about Christianity in 2020 on Danica Patrick's podcast, saying that he couldn't believe in a God who would send people to hell, among other statements critical of the Christian faith. 

Aaron later shared that he had given up his Christian faith, crediting his relationship with Rob Bell, the progressive minister. Bell apparently sent Rodgers numerous books to try to guide Rodgers away from a literal interpretation of the Bible, and to suggest that there is no hell, among other more progressive perspectives on Christianity. 

Growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin, about two hours from Green Bay, I had been raised in the Catholic faith, but in my teens I had begun to reject the faith, and by my early twenties, I was an atheist/agnostic. I did not believe the religion of my ancestors was of any value. I had bought into the mainstream narrative that science, modern medicine, and technology had essentially made religion irrelevant. 

So I began to live out the worldview of relativism, post-modernism, if there is no God, if there is no origin for humanity aside from the primordial soup, then I could live however I wanted. I was free to use drugs, chase the ladies, party it up, and essentially do whatever I wanted.

But after seven years of this lifestyle I found myself increasingly desperate for answers to the big questions. As you experience the emptiness of life without meaning, and as you begin to acquire addictions and negative attitudes, life becomes increasingly unbearable. As suffering and troubles increase, trauma increases, and then fear increases, and these fuels add to the fire of the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here?

Before it had been a fun question, now it was a desperate need to know. Soon, I think in that stage, we find ourselves wrestling with two extremes, life or death. I don't want to live anymore because life is unbearable. I can't stand it anymore. But, do I really want the unvarnished truth? Because it isn't pretty.

At rock bottom, total destruction of ego, I was left with two options, death, or life. Rock bottom has a way of refining the mind-battle to it's purest form: life or death. 

So it came into my mind to cry out to that ancient name, beyond ancient doors, the name that our modern society has covered in signs and placards that read: "bigotry, racism, sexism, white mans religion, child sex crimes, intolerance, hateful, judgmental" on and on and on the lists goes. The name censored in public school, criticized in college, smeared in the media, mocked by societal elites, redefined by academics, and rejected by society at large. And yet, there it was, that name, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, still there beyond all the slander, all the philosophical double-speak, all the charges of hate and intolerance; still, firm, steady, unmoving.  

I called out to that name. I didn't need all the answers. But I did need the chief answer giver. I needed to give it another chance. I needed to see if when I picked up that phone of faith in Christ, I'd find someone on the other end of the line, unlike any other world religion I had tried, and sure enough, I was shocked to find out, truly shocked to find out, that the God of my forefathers was actually real. There was a voice on the other end of the phone. Still, quiet, yet clear, and steady.

There was still a lot I didn't like in the gospels, in the Bible. A lot I didn't understand, a lot of harsh truth, a lot of stuff that called me out directly, a lot of sharp truths about morality, justice, and accountability, and yes, even about heaven and hell, and God's justice and judgment. 

But I realized something pretty basic. It's baked into all modern philosophy: that I must adhere to my own understanding. I must trust myself above anyone else. But what if that assumption is wrong? What if it's just as likely that I can be wrong about something like heaven and hell? What if I don't see the big picture? What if I do need to trust that God sees the accountability and justice of heaven and hell from an angle that I can't perceive in my finite nature?  Could I do that unthinkable thing and trust God in something that I found deeply disturbing? I dared to reject the modern notion that reality breaks down fundamentally to my own personal preferences, and decided that I would allow a voice above me to speak into my life, the voice of God, as revealed in His word. Even a voice to tell me I was wrong. 

That's not an easy salad to devour. But the pay out afterward was extremely high: Receiving the Kingdom of God as my inheritance in the next life. To reign with Him. To receive a new eternal purpose. High stakes require high payouts in either direction, a paradise beyond imagining or a prison beyond our worst nightmares. Nothing else would be high enough stakes for this gritty, majestic drama that unfolds on planet Earth. 

I still wrestle with it from time to time. But that's OK. Jacob wrestled with God. Israel means he who wrestles with God. Maybe we need to wrestle with God, as long as in the end perhaps we realize, we can bend the knee to Him, because without Him, life has no meaning. 

So the spiritual journey of Aaron Rodgers continues to this day. He's a young guy. He's only a year older than I am. He's now dabbling in things like ayahuasca, why? Because he's searching for the truth. He wants to know what life is really about. I can't judge him for that. I dabbled in such experiences for years, I was searching. 

Often in our spiritual journey we turn to something called "walk-about." I did for years. Just walking about the city, late at night, walking here and there, listening to ambient techno, looking up at the stars, wondering: What is life really about? That may be his next step as he nears retirement. Walk-about, thinking deeply, thinking on the big questions. 

Aaron Rodgers also recently found himself under attack from the culture for not receiving the injection. In the height of the cultural pressures, which were extreme, Aaron basically said no, I'm not yielding to the cultural pressure. That takes a lot of guts to do. But I think even now in 2023, many of us look back and think to ourselves, wow, we went overboard. We followed whatever the television news told us to think, but then randomly at some point in 2022, the CDC, the media, and the White House declared it was over, and all the masks came off, and many of us I'm sure were left holding the face rag thinking: Did I just fall for a hysteria that didn't match the reality on the ground?

Many in our society may be wondering: How did I let myself get so hysterical as to harass people like Aaron Rodgers to the point of cultural cancellation? "Thou art one of the haters" it seemed was the cry for anyone who dare dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. Then suddenly all the rags came off, and we're supposed to pretend like nothing happened? Astonishing. 

In any case, that took guts and character for Aaron Rodgers to do. If Aaron applies that same ruthless courage and hunger for the truth to his spiritual journey he will find the truth. I believe that. 

But let me offer this olive branch, you sat down with Rob Bell and read many of his recommended books, but now I would say, hear the other side of the story. Sit down with Christian evangelical leaders, and ask those big questions. Read some of the best books on Christian faith from a biblical perspective, and see if there is something there, something beyond all the propaganda and cultural bias, that might be a path worth walking once again. 

I recommend: "The Truth Project" by Del Tackett (DVD Series)
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel, and The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson. I'd mail them to Aaron, but I'm poor, so I'll include links to purchase them, for anyone interested.

In 2009 Rodgers and the Packers would fall to Favre and the Vikings. But, in 2010, in a magic year for the Packers, Favre would return to Lambeau for the last time, and Rodgers would lead the Packers to victory.

Rodgers once said after a game against the Seattle Seahawks, a team with many players of faith, that he didn't think God cares about football. It's a reasonable statement I think, does God really care about the tiny issues of a single football game? But maybe God does. Maybe God does care about the game of football. Maybe not the small details, but perhaps the bigger stories, of victory and defeat, of failure, of persevering in defeat, of clawing your way out of the pit and finding victory from the ashes of defeat.

The story had come full circle in 2010, Rodgers came into his own, and gained victory for us at last. He fought through a terrible controversy, and came out victorious, but only through crushing defeat, and constant difficulties and trials and retrials and injuries, criticism, outright hatred, dedicated devotion to his profession, and many hard fought battles. At last, through dogged perseverance and character over many years, he gained the victory. 

That is also how life works. Life brings us to the brink of chaos, and then somehow, someway, we find a new faith, a new hope, a new way, in Christ. In that, we find life, or... we don't. That's the gift of God in all this, choice. We can have it, or we can not have it. Wild, exciting, astonishing, terrifying, mystifying, that's God's universe isn't it?

Thank you to Aaron Rodgers for being such an amazing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers all these years. A personal hero of mine. I pray Aaron Rodgers returns to the faith of his forefathers. And thanks Aaron, for supporting The Salvation Army, the organization I minister for. 

The Lord wants you back Aaron Rodgers, he personally asked me to write this, and he gave me this scripture for you, as evidence of His love for you: 

 "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" -Romans 8:31

Aaron Rodgers giving God all the Glory