Michael Vick’s Redemption, and Ours

By Michael Brunerreligion professor, Azusa Pacific University The improbable journey on the road to redemption for Michael Vick, from NFL … Continued

By Michael Bruner
religion professor, Azusa Pacific University

The improbable journey on the road to redemption for Michael Vick, from NFL star quarterback to ruthless dog fighting promoter to contrite dog advocate, leaves a lot of us shaking our heads in incredulity. Is this guy for real? Is the Humane Society being duped? Are they using each other for mutual gain?

Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society acknowledges the latter: that the Humane Society is using Michael Vick to help stop dog fighting. One may reasonably question whether the ends should justify the means, but from a religious perspective, that’s a side issue. The more fundamental questions are these: Is redemption even possible? Can anyone be redeemed? And how do we know that redemption has actually taken place?

The answer to the first question, at least from a traditional Christian perspective, is an unequivocal “Yes.” The entire story of Scripture–from Genesis to Revelation–is about redemption. In fact, the only two options left to humans after the Fall are either redemption or damnation. If redemption isn’t possible, it’s time to hang it up, folks.

The answer to the second question is a little murkier. Some would say that there are those who are past the possibility of redemption. There are others who claim that God’s redemptive power knows no limits. Whatever the case, Vick, who admittedly did despicable and depraved things, says he’s contrite and has shown this to be so, and thus is probably more on the side of redeemable than un-redeemable. He at least deserves the benefit of the doubt. For now.

The third question is the hardest to answer. How can anyone know if the redemption of a person is ever sincere–even if they appear sincere? A cynic will claim that Vick is just faking it. But how does the cynic know? Gainsaying someone’s intentions is a zero-sum game. The proof is in the pudding. It isn’t Vick’s thoughts, after all, that are on trial here, but his actions. If any of us were judged by our thoughts, there wouldn’t be enough prisons in the world to hold the guilty. There is only One who knows the heart, and that final judgment is yet to be decreed.

In the meantime, we advocate for and believe in redemption. How can we not? We’re all counting on it for ourselves, so how can we deny it to others? The Lord’s Prayer casts aspersion on those who seek forgiveness from God but aren’t willing to give it to others in return: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And the great hymn reminds us of our mutual condition: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

Like me. Like you. Like Vick.

Wayne Pacelle and the Humane Society are absolutely right in giving Vick a platform to showcase his remorse – and yes, even his redemption. What better spokesman to advocate for the end of dog fighting? Let’s face it: we animal lovers have zero street cred with the very people we must reach if this repugnant activity is ever to stop. Teenage dog fighters won’t listen to Wayne, and they sure as hell won’t listen to me. But Vick? They just might listen to him.

And in case there are still some out there who aren’t convinced that a former dog-fighting overlord can or ever should be working in cahoots with the Humane Society, I offer you two names:

Saint Peter – Three-strikes-and-you’re-out-denier of Jesus Christ, who improbably becomes the founder of the Christian Church.

Saint Paul – Self-proclaimed Public Enemy Number One of Christians, who improbably becomes its greatest evangelist.

Jesus’ parable in the Gospel of Luke about the man from Samaria who saves the life of a hapless traveler beaten by bandits is meant to teach a few lessons: (1) that sympathy only goes so far and that at some point, we need to actually get some skin in the game; (2) an outcast (the Samaritans were despised by Jewish society), and not some moral exemplar, was the good neighbor; and (3) a good neighbor = the one who showed mercy.

The road to sainthood, it appears, goes through the valley of wretchedness. Am I proposing that Vick be beatified? Not even close. But I am suggesting that some of the most powerful advocates for a cause often began as one of its chief antagonists. Michael Vick, in other words, could very well turn out to be a Good Samaritan. To that end, I offer him my handshake of reconciliation. As a Christian, it’s the least I can do. As a lover of animals, it’s the most. I hope he is successful. A lot of dogs are counting on it.

The Reverend Michael Bruner, a Presbyterian minister, is an adjunct professor of religion at Azusa Pacific University in California.

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  • Paganplace

    Well, however you try to spin this, there’s no denying the nature of Dog. 🙂

  • WhitneyDavid

    Thank you for your reminder and Amen…

  • DwightCollins

    where is the second chance for many of us who for one reason or another have been left out of the mainstream of America…

  • blessinggirl

    Thank you, Reverend, for your thoughtful essay. I disagree with the third question you posed, because it invites judgmentalism–the primary sin of believers and, in this case, dog lovers like you and me. The need for humans to have absolute certainty of the rightness of their actions lends itself to a moral superiority that is itself a sin. We can’t know what is in Mr. Vick’s heart–only God knows and it is up to God alone to evaluate whether he is redeemed from the crime he committed. What troubles me greatly about your third question is the fact that you consider it something you and I should ponder, rather than hoping for the best and letting God do God’s business.

  • lswonder

    If “real” Christians were indeed real Christians then Mike would be given a chance. However, the loudest of the “real” one haven’t moved beyond an eye for an eye. Jesus’ message about love and forgiveness isn’t understood well enough for Mike to have a smooth second chance.

  • mlrice710

    It would seem to me that its the ones that condemned Vick the most that need redemption. Vick has already been redeemed, and he didn’t have to go through human beings for it.

  • Utahreb

    Vick apologized to his team, his family, his fans – but not once did I hear a word about being sorry and ashamed of what he did to the dogs. Not once did he acknowledge the pain and suffering those animals went through before some died. And now I know that someone will say that animals don’t feel pain and that, after all, they were “just dogs”. If you believe that, then you, as well as Vick, need a further lesson from the Bible.

  • Ziporah

    An excellent and thought provoking article. The thoughts shared emphasizes that God often uses and continues to use many who were and are often ostrasized to proclaim his message. Its true, only God knows what’s inside Michael’s heart. Michael could serve as a witness to some in the “community”. So many youth are lost and have given up. Some now persue a life of “crime”. They once asked the question what is the use of being good and doing the “right” thing. No one cares. Michael’s message would be ” I turned my life around and so can you. Use my life as an example. Dungy is now ministering to individuals who are currently in prison. Michael could witness to “juveniles, etc. who are in danger of entering into a life of crime or those who have made an initial poor decision and thus given us. His message would be “you can turn your life around”. The writer should be commended for speaking out and reminding us that God is a God of forgiveness. Only He knows what’s in someone’s heart.

  • Stringer13

    With all his sincere contrition, Mr Vick is well on the road back to the NFL, where is will once again be paid huge sums of money for playing a game. All those dogs he tortured and killed – for fun and to make a little money – they will still be dead or maimed.I cannot wait to see which big company ends up endorsing him upon his return…

  • Leofwine

    Wow, reading these comments I must say most of you are just amazingly stupid. Go ahead forgive the person who spread herpes under the name “Ron Mexico” – the guy was as promiscuous as Mae West.Go ahead forgive someone who got their jollies by attaching car battery cables to the testicles of unworthy dogs.Go ahead forgive the scum who enjoyed torturing innocent lives, even stealing family pets to “feed” the fighters of his well organized gambling ring. It made his fighting dogs more hungry for blood.Vick wasn’t a person who made an innocent mistake, like Donte Stallworth. No, this is a sleazeball who loved the suffering of living, innocent breathing beings. Add to the fact he was, in his prime, a below (but exciting) quarterback. At no time in his life has he ever done anything responsible. He was coddled more than a Rockefeller. Yet he couldn’t stop enjoying the torture of the innocents.Are you pious people better because you can openly forgive this POS? No, your lack of wisdom permeates your words. Jesus said a man cannot be saved in ignorance. Mr. Bruner and his sheep ooze ignorance. It’s not about forgiveness, it’s about the con man and the marks who are gullible enough to fall for his shtick.

  • kelekaistheone

    Just remember There is only ONE JUDGE…Only he can forgive and he does forgive, No human has the right to Judge, this man has paid his dues ..Let’s move on !

  • chatterbox3

    Luke 6:41 – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.We all are sickened by these unimaginable crimes committed around the country. I even find myself pondering a need for capital punishment at times. Criminals do deserve punishment, nobody can dispute that. I am often brought to a sense of balance by Luke 6:41. This verse sobers me from the crime of self-righteousness when I stand in judgment of others. Yes, we deserve punishment for our crimes, but from the Court system. Jesus warns that there are “none righteous, no, not one, unless any man should boast.” I believe He means that when our viewpoints get to be so lofty that we feel the other guy is guilty and has done far worse things than I could ever do, then we need to look inside our hearts and know that we are not honest. Based on God’s Word, we are all criminals (He uses the term sinners) in some shape, form, or fashion. He tells us that “there are none righteous, no not one, lest any man should boast”, and further, “to whom much is forgiven, much is required”. God pardons and shows everlasting mercy and grace toward “us sinners who fall short”. Much will be required of Mr. Vick in his redemptive state; his newly found freedom in Christ Jesus. I pray that he meets the requirement. Know that we may not have committed the same despicable crimes as Mr. Vick did, but if we are honest enough with Self and with God, who searches and knows the heart of man, we will come up with something. God Bless.

  • -PBL-

    Vick is only sorry because he got caught. He is a vicious, no good,self absorbed animal. Go ahead and let him into your church. Vick does nothing that won’t help Vick. If you think a man like Vick can change his inner heart, I can assure you he can’t. He is now a closet “gangsta boy”.

  • arosscpa

    The answer to all the questions is quite simply given in scripture:Peter asked: How many times must I forgive my brother, seven times?Jesus: No, you must forgive your brother seventy times seven.Jesus later said: Let the one without sine cast the first stone.

  • RRuin

    This is beyond the pale. Vick is redeemed!

  • bstanton55

    The Mike Vick saga is a joke. Who is our society decided that killing dogs is more evil than the host of other things people do? Vick was punished far too harshly because killing dogs is not politically correct. There would have been far less of an outcry if he had raped somebody (for example). This minister should know that God gave us dominion over all of the animals, and that there are many more things to be concerned about in our society. Of course Vick can be redeemed. And we Christians should spend time wrestling with difficult issues and let the media created stories alone.

  • mlrice710

    Leofwine, posting lies on a forum does not make them true….you’re obviously a person in need of redemption yourself, moreso than any redemption Michael Vick needs.

  • Paganplace

    I mean, for the record, I think it’s pretty tacky to try and claim Paul, and all the hate *he* appropriated and used, was somehow equivalent to ..well, suddenly not feeling entitled to abuse dogs for sport, …and it’s not to say that the whole ‘born again’ excuse when abusive people get *caught* is kind of lame….But I don’t think it has to be some kind of major religiously-branded experience to figure out what a dog is to a human. On the other hand, the tackiness is no excuse to …excuse or defend, the abuse of dogs. “Look, someone else is worse, let me hurt animals!”Really?Really? Where does *that* end?I don’t really know or care who the man is or why he’s famous. Not being cruel to animals *should be a no-brainer.*

  • blasmaic

    Vick ran afoul of some of the biggest false humanitarians in the world: animal lovers. Animal lovers are accountable to no person for their conduct. They love animals when it serves them, and neglect animals when it serves them too. And mostly they hate people all of the time. They’re not motivated by their love of animals so much as they are their selfishness. Since when did a dog ever pass judgment on a person’s morality?Since when did a dog ever criticize a human’s conduct?What selfish ignoramous wouldn’t love a dog more than human?

  • dlkimura

    Creatures like Vick do not change their stripes.He is a bone-head jock who desparately wants to get back into the NFL and all that money.He’d do and say anything to placate the skeptics. He deserves what he’s really qualified for, that being a menial job at minimum wage.

  • amethyst2

    To paraphrase Ambrose Bierce’s comments on Samuel Johnson’s comments on patriotism, “Religion is not the last refuge of scoundrels. It is the first.”

  • brucerealtor@gmail.com

    Look — there’s absolutely nothing in the Bible about dog fighting, except that one may break the Sabbath to care for a domestic animal in pain, or that is ill.Better people fight instead, right !!!

  • Chops2

    “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”Like me. Like you. Like Vick”I am not a wretch. How dare you claim I or others who have not harmed anyone (or any animal) is a “wretch”. This idea that people r wretches that can only be saved by belief in Jesus is disgusting and the most ridiculous thing i have ever heard. we r dirt until we accept Jesus. Utter garbage.

  • linkwray

    What did you have for lunch before you wrote this column? Apples and oranges, I’d bet. The issue of redemption can and ought to be considered separately from the NFL’s treatment of felons. If the league wants to portray its players as role models, which it does via numerous public service announcements, then it commits an act of unforgivable hypocrisy by granting second and even third chances to people like Vick. Gunplay, domestic abuse, animal abuse (by electrocution, in Vick’s case, if you read the indictment)… The list of NFL players’ sins is long. Vick should be forced to find another line of work for violating league policy.

  • liveandlove

    R E D E M P T I O Nis like after one files a “Religious-Bancruptcy” petition and prays-for or hopes-for to gets a 2nd or even a 3rd chance. Also known as a “New-Life” or “Fresh-Start” etc…Note: Ex-Athletes [examplifiers?] likes of O.J. Simpson {foot ball great} or even Mr. Mike Tyson {Boxing great} and similar Leaguer’s had more than 2 chances in life. But Three +plus ???i forgot but, in some States isn’t it strike three and then LIFE in prison?He should be made to Pay for his own incarsaration in what ever “Privately Run Prison” System Mr. “VICKS” find himself. As a Matter of Fact; his Buddy’s, Team and or Family should invest in private prison’s, not Church’s! So the Possibilities are endless. ONLY IN AMERICA! AMAZING, NO-GRACE ().

  • maidservice1

    I may be wrong but it seems that more people are worried about mr. Vick playing sports than him being able to support his family. personally I’ve walked with a dog on a leash most of my life, I wonder how many of you can walk on a leash. or is that not cruelty. i’ve seen death black and white and I see death in the words of most of you. it’s so nice to be pure enough to judge. (smile)

  • liveandlove

    IRAN, like America should be a “REPUBLIC” (w/church & State Forever-Seperate)!Note: The U.nited S.tates of A.merica is not a DEMOCRACY!This FACT is what Young & elder Ex-Zoroastrian Persian’s, turned Iranian Islama-holics must understand (not under estimate)!Another Note: America is at war and Why are some Heredi/Toddi “Ultra & Orthodox Jew’s” whom live in New York and elsewhere on earth, OPENLY (flout) collaborate with the ENEMY [IRAN Theocrat Ayatollah’s et al] as seen on TV & News Print & internet?Why are they not in Prison’d or encamped like the JAPs WW2? Note: Befor Hitler came along they {orthodox Finatics/Fundamentalist Jews & their Co.,} flouted the Non-Jews. saying “… IF not for Us JUDEO’s then Earth would never have been Born/Created/Made …[Similar believing]” Hence why HITLER and CO., got Angry, not Jealous! FACT: Therefore it was, like the Iranian Loving Orthodox Jewish Communities of Today whom do not recognized Modern-israel; whom got US [SECULAR jews], like MY Family & others Murdered by Proxy?, Shoah’d or Holocaused’d! ; AllBecause Their god(s), not OUR G-D, is better than Your god(s) or Religion/Faith/Belief!Jews are Jews worst enemies. And It is the Orthodox Community who CAUSED’t or Provoked the SHOAH, aka Holocaust of the 1900’s!WE believe that the Othodox Hasidic/Satmar Jewish (Rich) folk in America should Pay “REPERATIONS” to OUR Family, and not Germany et al!!!!Note: There has been many MASS-MURDERS by Non-Jews & Jews alike throught HISTORY {hence our Real JURY, Judge & Witness}!Remember & never Forget: ALL MAN KIND, includes unkinds, are Born in Miracle & never a Sin or Curseth Story!ALL are not “god(s) Chosen People” anymore; but ALL, EVERY & ANY of Us are “NATURALLY SELEC-tion’d”!ALL oldtime CULT-ures & SECT-ions must adopt or Perish! So,SECULAR JEWS will outlive ALL RELIGIOUS JEWS or ALL Non-Jewish Religious Fanatics also, on Earth & Beyond!

  • liveandlove

    Note: Mr. Eboo Patel: FOR OUR PREZident & for “THE PEOPLE”WE [i] have the Master-PLAN or ‘RECOMMENDATIONs” for today’s Presidental & Congress’s Quagmire via today’s two important Issues/Questions.1st: 2nd: for US on “WHAT TO DO NEXT” is no brainer.Note: YE ‘inferior’ [Jealous] minds cannot see what WE [i] ‘superior’ [Fearless] minds INTROVISION!Note Again: Example: WE [i] , on this blogg [exclusively] warned Ye all about the inevitable “PANDeMIC” {via the AVIAN not Swine Flu} wipe-out to come, of many humans on Earth. And the “FINANCIAL” baloon/bust crisis of today; And the fact that Oil Producing Nations & their Children will Drown & Swim in their own Petroleum!—Hint: ALL of this Earth’s [a Space-Ship of Many] URANIUM & PETROLIUM , via a International BANK, like the Moon & Planets & Galaxy belongs to ANYONE WHO SEEKS to inhabit them, must Belong to ALL, EVERY & ANY born & un-born Earthlings!—As told YE; WE [i] are going to win many of this planet’s Internatiuonal AWARDS! i.e. Pulitzer Prize, Templeton et al!WE [i] are JOK{TANians EBERU’s & not like Ye PELEGians!PS: “The PEOPLE”s U.S. Federal Reserve & thier U.S. Treasury should NEVER again be allowed Quasi, but Seperate Governmental Privilidges! Or else the “Financial Trusnami” will snow-ball in the future again; resulting in Nuclear Holocaust the World Over!Hint: This Planet will FREEZE again & then Thaw-out again 1,444 times, and then Earth, along with OUR Solar System and everything within will inevitably Die!Hint: According to the “O.U.R.” Book” that OUR immortal “MEME”s will forever out-live & outshine OUR Evoluting BIO-FINITE Body’s!

  • jenkoosh1

    I will say this…as Michael Vick learns from the Humane Society, and works day in and day out with dogs, he is going to break. He will realize what gentle, loyal and loving creatures they are, and then will experience a lifetime of major remorse, the kind that could literally drive you insane. I would not want to be in his shoes.