Sports,  Theology/Bible

Is God a cosmic fan in the sky or disinterested observer? Or neither?

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute says that many Americans believe God plays a role in who wins and loses NFL football games. From the poll:

Majorities of Americans (53%) and sports fans (56%) say that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success; more than 4-in-10 of Americans (45%) and sports fans (42%) disagree…

About 1-in-4 (26%) Americans and 27% of self-described sports fans say that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event. About 7-in-10 Americans (71%) and sports fans (69%) disagree.

The two paragraphs above reveal that Americans are mixed-up about how God relates to his creatures.

The first paragraph has more in common with the the prosperity gospel than the Bible. It is not true that God always rewards faithful followers with prosperity and success. On the contrary, God often plans painful paths for his people. And he does so not necessarily because he’s trying to punish them, but because he’s trying to grow them in Christlikeness (James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:7).

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. -Philippians 1:29

Think also of God’s servant Job, who lost all of his wealth and buried all of his children. Job experienced great prosperity and great pain. But his pain wasn’t a result of unfaithfulness, nor was his prosperity a result of his faithfulness. God had his own designs for each, but his purposes in Job’s life could not have been calculated in a simple quid pro quo. That’s just not how the divine calculus works when it comes to prosperity and pain on this side of glory.

The second paragraph owes more to Deism than the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). What do I mean? Just because God is not the god of the prosperity gospel does not mean that he is uninvolved in His creation–even the mundane aspects of our daily lives. In fact, Jesus put it this way:

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. -Matthew 10:29

What could be more insignificant than a bird falling? This is Jesus’ way of saying that God’s providential concern over his creation extends to the molecular level of our existence. Indeed, Paul says that God works “all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). God is in control of everything in His world, and that includes football games.

Even though Americans may be confused about these things, the Bible isn’t. The Bible reveals a sovereign God who reigns supreme over all. He is not a cosmic fan in the sky when it comes to football games. Nevertheless, he does control all things. But that doesn’t mean that the winners are blessed while the losers are not. Sometimes quite the opposite is true.


  • Paul Reed

    “Think also of God’s servant Job, who lost all of his wealth and buried all of his children”

    True, but let us not forget God’s faithfulness and his promise to wipe every tear. Let us remember that the Bible tells us God restored (and even increased) Job’s original wealth, gave him 7 sons and 3 daughters (as his original 10 children had been killed), and doubled the number of animals he originally had before they had been killed. So Job not only had all he had before (his wealth, health, animals, children, riches), but had even more afterwards. We must never forget God’s promises and faithfulness toward his servants, and that God controls all and works all to his ends.

  • Andy Moffat

    We must also never forget Stephen who was murdered for faithfully following through on God’s call on his life. His reward, far exceeding Job’s, was realized in a distinctly different way – I think his reward is the thing believers need to keep before them. I would think the Scriptures relating to the tears being wiped away have this in mind.

  • Christiane Smith

    The concept of ‘suffering’ as to its value is being re-examined in the Church, especially as the excitement over the ‘prosperity gospel’ subsides.

    An examination of the role of ‘suffering’ in the lives of Christian people deserves the new attention it is being given. I hope we begin to understand why it was written in sacred Scripture, this: “And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid.”
    (from the Holy Gospel of St. Mark 10:32)

    “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

    Only when we understand the cost of discipleship that is possible, according to Bonhoeffer;
    only then, can we appreciate the gift of Pentecost when the Disciples were give a gift of courage to cease cowering in the Upper Room and to go out and bring Christ to the multitudes. Most of these disciples, before Pentecost, were frightened and ran away at the Crucifixion, and hid. Some, when confronted, like St. Peter, even denied Him. But in the history of the Church, when the fire of the Holy Spirit descended on these men after the Ascension of Our Lord, these men no longer feared the death that most of them eventually came to endure as their witness to the Lord of Life.

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