Thursday, January 24, 2013

Destiny or Deity?

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, the issue of whether or not God is rooting for a particular team to win always seems to surface. It has been perpetuated to new levels the past few weeks by Ray Lewis, the star linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens who is a professed Christian. During the Ravens playoff run, Lewis has been telling his teammates and media that God has ordained for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. He has also been quoting Isaiah 54:17, "No weapon formed against you shall prosper." I will not take the time to discuss the actual meaning of this verse but I can assure you that it is not about a football game.

But the question still lingers? Does God care who wins on Super Bowl Sunday? Is God a Baltimore Ravens fan - at least for this season? I really believe the fact that we even ask such a question is indicative of a society that has lost its way. Karl Marx once famously said, "religion is the opiate of the masses.” I would argue that sport is the new religion.

That being said, the answer to this question is not as simple as it would seem. Many theologians say that the notion of God meddling in a football game trivializes the power of an almighty force. That God might care about a touchdown or an interception offers a far too "mechanistic" view of God, they say.

"God is not a puppeteer who controls all of our motions and actions," said John Freeman, a professor with the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. "That idea of being controlled takes away free will...It's offensive."

Conversely, some NFL chaplains - all NFL teams have chaplains, with the exception of the Oakland Raiders - say God's hand is at work. How else to explain that the perennially awful Atlanta Falcons now have a shot at being champions, says their team chaplain, Rev. Charles Collins. "Yes, of course God cares. God cares about everybody and every little thing that happens (in the game)."

So does God care? Is He the one pulling the strings of mediocrity to ensure the Cleveland Browns - better known as the basement dwellers - never have another winning season? Is He so obsessed with Tom Brady, like the rest of us, that He continues to help him win at an unprecedented clip despite his head coach being Bill Belichick often referred to as Bill Beelzebub by the media for his cold and tight lipped press conferences?

I found the best answer to this question from R.C. Sproul Jr. who wrote a blog on this very topic during this time last year right after the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs. He says and I quote:

"The truth is God does decide, and He does care. He not only decides who will win the Super Bowl, He decides who will win the game of hearts that I play with my children. He decides, or rather decided, everything. There are no places, let alone no playing fields, where God stays on the sidelines. We need to remember that everything that happens must have a sufficient cause. And we must remember that every sufficient cause eventually traces its way back to God before time. This happens because that happened. That happened because this other thing happened. Eventually this takes us to “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’"

Of course God works in and through secondary means. He gives the gifts. He creates the weather. The one who numbers the hairs on our heads softens the ground where a defensive back slips, and a playoff game ends on an eighty yard touchdown pass. There is no thing, no cause, over which He is not sovereign.

Isn’t it, though, somehow beneath His dignity to be concerned with such things? Yes, of course it is. God has only one concern - the manifestation of His glory. And that is how He determines what will happen in a football game, and what will happen in an election, and what will happen in a cancer ward. His goal isn’t ultimately to make little boys in Pittsburgh happy, or little boys in Denver happy. His goal, which cannot be thwarted, is to show forth who He is. (emphasis mine)

Does that mean He plays favorites for the likes of outspoken Christians like Tim Tebow or Drew Brees? Of course. Because God loves those who are His, even as He loves His own Son, God is certain to favor them. That favor, however, isn’t a path to winning a football game, but is instead the path to true victory, becoming more like Jesus. God isn’t glorified in giving Tim Tebow unlikely victories that somehow redound to God’s glory. No, God is glorified in making His children, including Tim Tebow, more like His Son. Sometimes that means leading them to the thrill of victory. Sometimes it means leading them through the agony of defeat." [End quote]

As I mull over Sproul's assertions which I agree with, I realize the more difficult and pertinent question for me isn’t does God care, but should I? As I stated previously, our society is fixated on sports entertainment. Most see it as an escape from the doldrums of every day life, others view it as a chance to live their dreams through professional athletes. But as a Christian, my most important prayer is not asking for a Patriots victory. No, not even in the Super Bowl. My utmost petition to the throne of grace is for my children to have ears to hear the gospel, a heart to believe it, and grace to accept His providence in all things, even when the Patriots lose.
“Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” - Charles Reade

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