At the end of the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks were a yard away from victory when, to the surprise of everyone, a rookie named Malcolm Butler intercepts a (very ill-advised) pass and the game ends with a New England Patriots victory. What many may not have noticed is how Butler reacted on the sideline after the play was over. As he is being congratulated by teammates, an extremely emotional Butler continued to shake his head in disbelief and then points up, towards the heavens, apparently to either give credit to or thank God for the victory. Later on Butler gave an interview and said this:
I just had a vision that I was going to make a big play, and it came true. And I’m just blessed. … I don’t know how I knew what was going to happen, but I did … I just read the play and made a play.”
How many times do we see players thanking God in some form or fashion for winning a game, or asking that He make them victors? Or how about when a pastor prays for a particular sports team to be victorious, or when a team gathers before a game to pray? What is the purpose, and should we be involving God in this way? More importantly, should we believe He involves Himself in this way?
“When did God become a sports fan?” is the title of blog article that appeared on CNN about 5 years ago, written by John Blake, and I’ve never forgotten about it. He makes some very interesting remarks that are worth thinking about:
Thanking God from the winner’s circle has become so common that one British newspaper published a letter to the editor entitled: “Leave me out of your petty games—Love, God.”
The British letter raised a question: Does God care who wins on game day? And, if so, do losers somehow have less faith?
The article goes on to ask whether this is about praising God for victory or actually simply serves to make the athlete appear godly:
Athletes who publicly thank God for victory are often calling more attention to themselves than their faith, says William J. Baker, author of “Playing with God.”
They are selling their goodness, and their brand of faith, to a captive audience, says Baker, who describes himself as a Christian….
What many of these pious athletes are also selling is an evangelical, winner-take-all gospel, Baker says.
“There are many similarities between the athletic and the evangelical take on life,” Baker says. “Both are competitive, capitalistic. It’s good guys versus bad guys. You have winners—people who are saved—and losers—people who are going to hell.”
The question I find myself asking is whether God really cares about who wins, and whether the prayers actually achieve what is intended. This question is closely linked to one’s outlook on how much God involves Himself in our daily affairs. That parking spot I found right when I needed it, is that God? What about the elevator that was waiting opened for me and saved me from being late to a meeting, was that God? How intimately involved is God? Does He direct things and people in a manner to conform to my prayer requests? Some people, as did many Church Fathers, believe that God is so involved that He directs the weather Himself (this cloud goes there, rain fall on this city and not that one, tornado follow this path, etc.); for those people I can see why asking God to direct the outcome of a game makes sense. But for others, trivial things—and sports I think arguably should be counted among the trivial—are often not directed by God but rather by free will and natural order. If God cares about sports outcomes, what does it say about Him when there are two equally devout teams who both equally invoke His power to lead them to victory, and only one team wins?
Personally, I think being grateful to God for all things is due Him, but attributing a sports victory to God, or seeking God’s help to be victorious is misplaced. Wouldn’t it be better if we prayed that God keep both teams safe, that He keeps all athletes from sinning by anger or hatred, and that He helps us compete yet maintain a spirit of love and good sportsmanship? I say that a game’s outcome doesn’t and shouldn’t have anything to do with God, but seeking Him to help us maintain good Christian mindsets during and after the game is far better. Oh how many times we Christians play a sport and forget Christian virtues (I speak of myself too). Maybe if this was what the two teams prayed for at the Super Bowl in 2015, then it would not have ended up in one big brawl in the last few seconds of the game (video here).
Just some food for thought…
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Photo: O’Brien Schofield #93 of the Seattle Seahawks kneels in the end zone and prays before the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on Jan. 18, 2015 in Seattle. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Otto Greule Jr
ST. ATHANASIUS on God’s intimate involvement in nature:
“There is one God, from whom all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things” [1 Cor. 8:6] Thus He, always as now, speaks to the sun and it rises, and commands the clouds and it rains upon one place; and where it does not rain, it is dried up. And He bids the earth yield her fruits, and fashions Jeremiah in the womb. But if He now does all this, assuredly at the beginning also He did not disdain to make all things Himself through the Word; for these are but parts of the whole.” – St. Athanasius (De Decretis)
ST. CLEMENT OF ROME regarding God setting the laws of nature in order in the beginning of creation and leaving them be:
“The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no way hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, “Thus far shall you come, and your waves shall be broken within you.” The ocean, impassible to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another.” – St. Clement of Rome (Letter to the Corinthians)