Two weeks ago, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was named the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Vick is the 12th recipient of the award but the first to "come back" as an ex-con who served time in federal prison.

Even non-football fans are familiar with the meteoric rise of Vick, recruited by the NFL two years into college to become its first African American quarterback chosen in the first-round draft. But by 2007, Vick's early notoriety as a bad boy with a bad attitude blossomed into a full-blown federal case. Charges of dogfighting and gambling ended in conviction, imprisonment, suspension from the NFL, and, finally, bankruptcy. Vick's second chance came in 2009, when the Philadelphia Eagles decided to sign him. That's the road that brought Vick to his recent award.

I don't follow football, but living as I do in Virginia Tech territory, where the Virginian rose to fame, I had little choice but to follow Vick even before his fall. But because his story connects to matters at the core of my being—creation care, activism, education, and the essence of the Christian faith—I've been compelled to follow it closely.

To begin with, creation care, specifically animal welfare, is clearly a biblical concern, from God's command to Adam to name the animals in Genesis to Jesus' assurance in the New Testament that falls outside God's care, up to the establishment of the first animal-welfare society by Christian abolitionists in the 19th century. Christians especially should be heartbroken by the vicious acts Vick was convicted of perpetrating against God's creatures. Dogfighting is a blood sport more gruesome than the name suggests. Dogs are bred to fight one another to a slow, tortured death for the sake of entertainment and gambling. Poorly performing dogs are often abandoned or killed by their owners. In Vick's operation, such dogs were drowned, electrocuted, and shot, in some cases by Vick himself.

Vick's and other dogfighters' actions test the limits of human depravity. They also test certain Christian doctrines, too: repentance, forgiveness, and restoration, to name a few. Even outside the Christian context, controversy on these matters has swirled. President Obama was questioned for calling the Eagles' owner—months after Vick's turnaround was clear—to congratulate him for giving Vick a second chance. And when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) accepted an invitation from Vick's representatives to partner with him in his attempt to make amends by joining the HSUS's anti-dogfighting campaign, some saw such an alliance as an unconscionable compromise on the part of HSUS.

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Yet in responding to Vick, Christians must ask: Isn't grace the center of the gospel? If it were up to my husband, Vick would no more be permitted to have a dog again than a pedophile would be allowed near a child, even after serving time. I admit, when my 75-pound dogs are snuggled up to me—the very embodiment of trust—it's hard to disagree. And when I heard that Vick is itching to own a dog again (something prohibited until his probation is over next year) for the sake of his daughters, I can't resist the temptation to observe that what his children probably need more than a dog is an intact family. In more dispassionate moments, however, I realize that as Christians we must not only make allowance for repentance and forgiveness. We must actively seek and cultivate the same.

I spoke recently to Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, about his work with Vick in the anti-dogfighting campaign. Pacelle told me the approach they've taken is very much modeled on the Christian pattern of repentance and redemption. Pacelle thinks he's seen not only genuine repentance in Vick, but also growing understanding and remorse over the course of Vick's talks before more than 10,000 kids. Although partnering with Vick wasn't an easy decision for Pacelle, he said Vick has proven to be an "agent of reform" in HSUS's ongoing efforts to combat "the festering problem of dog fighting in our communities." The fact is, as reflected in Vick's own life—seeing his first dog fight at age 7—many young people are growing up in environments that teach that dogfighting is normal and acceptable entertainment. Undoubtedly, education is key to addressing this and all forms of animal cruelty.

While Vick is poised to present a cautionary tale to others on the evils of dogfighting, what of his own state? Pacelle, who has spent much time with Vick, explained that people who "exhibit malicious cruelty toward animals have problems that need to be addressed." He said Vick is working on those problems through treatment and therapy. "By every external measure, both on and off the field," Pacelle said, Vick is reforming. The goal for HSUS, he explained, "is for everyone to be a good pet owner, regardless of their background."

If you've read accounts of the rehabilitation process Vick's surviving dogs have gone through, then it's hard to think about a helpless animal being entrusted to his care again. But, as Pacelle points out, Vick will forever be "the most scrutinized pet owner in America" if he does get a dog. (His probation prohibits only dogs, not cats or other pets.) Beyond Vick, Pacelle urged, there is animal cruelty going on all around us right now: "Get outraged about that."

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It's a pointed reminder. It's easy to heap coals on a specific sin or a particular sinner that happens to catch our individualized ire or enough media attention. But what do those particulars look like in the eyes of God? And what do my own sins look like from that view? Aren't I "comeback player" of sorts, too?