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.