Two things happened fairly close to home this weekend that have dominated national headlines. The first happened within 100 miles of my house on a stretch of highway I drive often. The second happened just a few hundred meters away from where my brother in law works and my brother in law watched the whole thing from a few meters away.
What caught my attention about both was not their nearness to me but that God was given credit for both.
The first happened Saturday morning, on Interstate 84 right outside of Baker City. Icy roads and foggy conditions led to a 20 car pileup affecting more than 100 people. Although several dozen were injured, the picture (right) that made the incident viral was of a man named Kaleb Whitby, who is younger than I am. Kaleb walked away from the accident with two band aids on his face, but sadly, without a truck.
He probably should be dead, or at least on life support or at the very least on crutches. Instead he is alive with 2 band aids. His exact quote, according to the press was, “Thank God that I’m still alive. Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”
As a pastor I find that quote endearing. The laws of probability (laws which God created, a random number generator of sorts) dictate that he should be dead. With that said, it might have been dumb luck and stranger things have certainly happened, though not often. Yet as a believer I have no problem stating that God would reprogram that random number generator to keep Kaleb alive. We call that a miracle.
The second thing that happened was that the Seattle Seahawks won both an onside kick and a coin toss, which then led to a conference championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. My brother in law, who works for the Mariners, was on the sidelines watching the whole thing. I am in a family of Seahawks fans and cheer for them when I am not cheering for the Chiefs. I was thrilled they won but their game had been ugly up to the final minutes of the 4th quarter. They had thrown 4 interceptions and received a ridiculous amount of avoidable penalties, the majority of which were because a player was on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage.
Still a great defensive line, a few miracle plays, the onside kick that bounced into their player’s hands and the luck of a coin toss led to the Seattle victory.
Moments after the game an understandably emotional Russell Wilson gave his team credit for staying in the game and stated how he “had no doubt.” Then he said, “God prepared me for this game. God prepared the team for this.” Then the camera switched to a shot of the Seahawks’ players praying in a circle with one Packer in the mix. I do not know, nor would I judge if I did, what they were praying. Still, the entire event was one example of many that football is inventing a spirituality all its own.
Still, I wonder about Russell Wilson’s claim that God prepared them to win the game. If I were not a Christian I would wonder at the absurdity of such a God, since Seattle was so unprepared they threw 4 interceptions and couldn’t keep their players on the right side of the line of scrimmage half the time. I might argue that it seems to be the luck of a bouncy football and a coin toss that won the game, alongside an incredible defense that more than covered the offense’s sins.
Still, I am a Christian believer and must treat Wilson’s statement, along with Whitby’s above, with theological earnestness.
As a pastor, I would ask, “Does God really overrule the random number generator that governs the rest of us to save young men’s lives and help Seattle win football games?”
This question has many answers but I will focus on two. The first is a philosophical one. What can we say about a God who easily saves Kaleb Whitby’s live but leaves our high school secretary, who is an incredibly devout Christian and loving servant to our teenagers, with cancer? Why easily override the laws to save Kaleb and not override those same laws to save the secretary? Is such a God even good? At the very least, philosophers argue, God should account for why the angels saved Kaleb and won’t save the secretary.
It gets worse with Seattle’s win. I know very devout servants of Christ who are Packers fans and they feel wronged and robbed of a victory they probably deserved. (I admit this, even though I am a Seahawks fan.) More than that, a God who overrides the laws of a coin toss to help Seattle win is even more a tyrant for not doing so to save the lives of countless others who are starving to death or dying of cancer or being annihilated by extremists in the middle east. Is a God good who prepares people to win football games, but has done lousy at preparing football teams to eradicate hunger and death? Once again, philosophers would argue such a God should at least give an account of why.
However, I am not a philosopher. I took required philosophy classes in college and seminary and went no further in the subject. Perhaps because of that, I think that if God did indeed save Kaleb’s life and prepare Seattle to win, God would certainly be able to give us an account of why. I trust God completely in those situations to do what is right. In fact, if God were to show up and give an account it would probably be a lot like the one given to Job, “Who are you to contend with me?”
There is a second way to consider this question. It is from a theological and Biblical perspective. Luckily I took my fair share of Bible and Theology classes in college and seminary so I feel a bit more prepared in those areas. In fact as I have thought about these two situations over the last day, I cannot get away from the 3rd Commandment which is, “Do not use the Lord’s name in vain.”
To call someone by name is to evoke their entire presence and bring their entire being to bear in the situation. So a better translation of the 3rd commandment might be, “Don’t bring God into vain contexts” or “Be careful when you bring up God that it is not to address a foolish subject.”
This idea plays out in all of Scripture. It certainly does so at the end of Job, where God seems to be mad that his name was brought haphazardly into Job’s conversation with friends. In Isaiah 29:13 God speaks through the prophet saying, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus quotes this again in Matthew 15 to describe the Pharisees who led the way in talking about God and bringing God’s name and presence into situations but did not lead the way in actual service to God.
With this in mind what do we say about the claims made of God this past weekend? I know most Christians are delighted that God was even brought up in such high profile cases and I struggle to not be happy as well. I also do not want to violate another commandment of Jesus’, mainly that of being hyper critical.
Still, it would seem to me that the God of Scripture would certainly break the rules of probability to save Kaleb Whitby’s life. I do not know Kaleb. He might be a model Saint or a lousy sinner. He probably is like me, somewhere in between. Regardless, Scripture reveals a God who works miracles to save the lives of all types of saints and sinners. I hope that Kaleb finds a great mentor to help him answer his question about why God would save his life and what he should do next. At the same time, I am sad that God is not doing the same for our High School secretary and pray often that God will. Still, the God of Scripture would absolutely save Kaleb’s life for no other reason than love of the world and of Kaleb and his family.
The Seahawks are a different story. We know that football certainly is vain. It is a fun thing we do and a great pastime and I enjoyed the game yesterday as much as anybody. Furthermore, I would never invent a new legalism by insisting people not watch it or play it. Still, it is not an area of great spiritual meaning. Football is vanity.
To attach God’s name and presence to something as vain as football would surely be a violation of the 3rd commandment. It would be similar to telling people my wife loves green peppers. My wife hates green peppers and if she overheard me saying she liked them she would either assume I was an ignorant husband who refused to notice even the rarest thing about her or she would assume I was a liar. Both would not bode well for me.
I wish sometimes the church would give God the same attention. Instead we try to attach God’s name to everything and anything that comes our way without stopping to ask whether God really wants to be a part of it. In so doing, we might be force feeding God green peppers. Or, to dispense with the metaphor, we are honoring God with our lips but our hearts are a universe away.
The God of Scripture does not prepare people to win football games nor would the God of Scripture rewrite the random number generator of the cosmos (a number generator God invented) to help one team win a vain and silly game over another.
With that said, I am delighted Seattle won and I am even more delighted that Kaleb Whitby is still alive. I attribute the second to a God of life and love who overwrites the rules so that both may continue. The first, I attribute to the random number generator that the God of life invented but doesn’t micromanage. I guess you might call Seattle’s win dumb luck.
Still go Seahawks! May that luck continue against the Patriots.
Kaleb, my prayers are with you and your family. May the God of life and love continue to shower both to you as you seek to live a fruitful life.