Justifying Ray Rice

By Bob Hiller


Ray Rice is disgusting. For you who may not know the story, Ray Rice was a running back for the Baltimore Ravens who was caught on tape punching his fiancée (now wife) out cold in an elevator. He then proceeded to drag her limp, unconscious body from the elevator and out of sight. A man who is physically capable of running head first into some of the most violently athletic men on the planet and who can likely bench press small cars has no business cold-cocking a woman in the face. Men who hit women are not immature boys who should know better. They are cowards. Ray Rice, in a drunken stupor, hit his fiancée. He is a coward. He is disgusting.

How anyone could come to Rice’s defense in all of this controversy is beyond me. There is no defending a man who abuses a woman. None. Yet the reactions to Rice were truly bizarre. Yes, the coaches and ownership made some foolish statements regarding Rice’s character. Sure, the NFL handled this whole thing poorly. And, many are aghast to find out Rice is now married to the woman he knocked out. But what disturbed me was the response which came from the Ravens fans. Even after all of the horrifying elevator video was released, many of his fans came out in support of Rice

Fans claimed that Rice’s personal life was no business of theirs. Some thought him a great guy who deserves support after this unfortunate incident. One woman said Rice had always been kind in giving autographs to her and that he is a “sweet guy.” She went on to say, “And it’s [Rice and his fiancée’s] business. His wife obviously forgave him, why can’t we?” These fans refused to give up their Ray Rice jerseys. His name was to remain on their backs because they still loved their favorite running back.


Ray Rice is disgusting. He hit a woman. He deserves no support from fans. He deserves jail. He certainly doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Yet he’s received it from his fans. People were actually speaking of this cowardly athlete with terms of love and support. They were proudly wearing his name and number on their backs. Though they were viewed as crazy and foolish for standing by Rice, they did not back off their support. He was their guy, he wore their team’s jersey, and they wore his name. Ray Rice is disgusting. But, Ray Rice is loved.

The Jagged Word’s focus has been on the theme simul iustus et peccator all week. This Latin phrase means that those who are baptized into Christ and have faith in His shed blood are simultaneously righteous and sinful, saints and sinners. This does not mean that they are partially righteous and partially sinful, as though they are mixed drink of good booze and diet soda. Nor does the simul (as I will call this for shorthand) imply that the dark side of the force resides in our otherwise good hearts. No yin nor yang here. The simul suggests that Christians are completely righteous and completely sinful at the exact same time. As Derek Webb sings, “I’m not a half a man…saint and sinner is what I am.”

The simul also doesn’t mean that we are okay or that our sins are no big deal. It means the opposite. It does not take away the need for repentance and contrition. Yet it does give hope to those whose lives produce sins that are disgusting and shameful, that is, it gives hope to us. The simul doesn’t teach that we are okay in our sinfulness, but it does say we are beloved in Christ.

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Ray Rice’s fans demonstrate the simul quite clearly. In himself, in his heart, and in his actions, Rice is a sinner, a coward who hit a woman. And, as delusional as it may seem, he is loved by some fans. As I noted, when he was still in Baltimore they continued to wear his name on their backs. He was not righteous in who He was, but in the eyes of his fans, he was beloved. His righteousness, his forgiveness, was found outside of himself in the words of the fans, “His wife obviously forgave him, why can’t we?” He is at the same time forgiven and filthy, right in the eyes of those who love him though wrong in the eyes of the law and the world.

Lest we deride those delusional fans too quickly, they do look a lot like Jesus. They are showing mercy and grace to one who in no conceivable way deserves it. And that is exactly what got Jesus into so much trouble! He looked flat nuts while dining with prostitutes and tax collectors. Remember the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair in Luke’s gospel (7:36-50)? The teachers of the law said that if he only had a video of what she did in those elevators, He would not let her touch Him. But, He let her anyhow. And He got his feet cleaned. And He showed her mercy. And Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” And mercy towards someone that sinful just looks delusional.


This is how the simul works for you…or better said, how Christ works for real sinners – sinners like you. It is not that Christ condones spousal abuse or prostitution or any kind of sin. He hates those sins. No, he doesn’t condone them, He hates them. So, He dies for them. I pray you haven’t hit someone weaker than you; it’s repulsive and shameful. Nonetheless, you have sinned. Jesus says that isn’t an accident. It comes straight from your black heart (Mark 7:20-23). You sin because you are a sinner. But, Jesus, in some bizarre and seemingly delusional state of love and grace, has decided to wear your name on His back. He’s decided to be derided and judged guilty in the eyes of the law for your sake. He who is your God and perfect Brother, who knew no sin, simultaneously hung on the cross and became sin for you. He died for you (iustus) while you were yet (simul) sinful (peccator)…which means His death is for you now. Your righteousness, your forgiveness, is not found in you but in the Word of Him who said (and says), “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Your name is engraved on the scarred back of Him who carried your sin to the cross.

Ray Rice deserves no love. Ray Rice is beloved. You and I deserve punishment from God. Yet, in Christ, we have received mercy. Christ proudly bears your name on His back. And, while you are yet a sinner, you simultaneously bear His name on your baptized forehead.