I am not going to lie. I wholeheartedly believe that Christianity’s idolization of American Football has become. . .well, idolatrous. Also, I am not going to lie. I like football. It is a really fun game to both play and watch. I will even go further to argue that we owe our professional entertainers (from actors to musicians to sports players) a livable wage, maybe not a wage that exceeds that of most countries, but a wage nonetheless.
Putting all that aside, I get really nervous when people start talking about God helping football players win, especially the ones who make great public spectacles of religiosity like praying after every touchdown and talking about God during press conferences. That just seems to go against the grain of Matthew 6 a bit much.
Also, I have read other parts of Scripture, passages like, Psalm 146:7, “God upholds the cause of the oppressed” and others like it that seem to suggest that God is more concerned with things like looking out for the poor and the oppressed than with helping independently wealthy athletes score more touchdowns to get more money to cause more concussive brain injuries. It makes me even more nervous when these athletes go home and beat up their spouses and children. (source although to be fair, countersource)
I am quite passionate about this, as you can probably tell, so much so that I have blogged about it before.
However, something happened over the last couple weeks that has caused me to rethink my thoughts about God and football. Simply put, I read Luke 6 again.
Verse 35 has always stood out to me, especially the last phrase which states quite clearly, “[God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
The God I grew up worshiping was not kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. In fact, being ungrateful was a great way to get God mad at you. Being all out wicked (a word we reserve for the worst of the worse) was the best way to get God to pummel you into a fiery eternity. As for entire nations of wicked people. . .well God would certainly disband them quite soon, even though it took God about a 1,000 years to disband Rome after the very wicked Pax Romana. But who has time for the study of history when you are trying to convince your compatriots to not be evil nor get destroyed?
And yet right there, coming from the mouth of Jesus no less, we find out that God is not actively decimating the wicked. Instead God is showing kindness to them. I love that Jesus used the word “kind” here instead of something more generic like, “love.” If it were “love” we could hide behind sentimentality, saying such ridiculous things like, “God loves them but still will destroy them, but you know, out of love.”
That is not what kindness means. Kindness means God is actively doing gracious and kind things to wicked people. This isn’t a lone verse. There are echoes of this in other parts of the Bible. You can look at Mathew 5:45 watered down version where Jesus says that God sends both the sun and the rain on good and wicked people alike. You can also look to particular narratives like God’s deaalings with Jacob in Genesis.
Concerning football this might mean that once in awhile God takes a break from upholding the cause of the oppressed to help a wicked person score a touchdown. It might also mean no matter of prayer and religious grandstanding is going to help you win that football game. In the end God might just offer a miraculous hail-mary catch to the “wicked” team because God decided to have some fun with our silly sports that day.
Of course, one can surmise that this would have something to do with prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is this idea (on which I base my blog) that God’s gracious provision goes before us and meets us in our wicked states to invite us into a relationship with God.
This might mean there is no problem in telling that wicked, concussed, wife abuser of a football player that God did help him win. Now in order to respond graciously to God’s grace, he should leave his violent sport and lifestyle, give all his money to the poor, seek forgiveness from those he has harmed and offer himself as a living sacrifice to God’s mission of helping oppressed people.
Or maybe this has nothing to do with prevenient grace and God just enjoys blessing the wicked because that is who God is by nature.
Or maybe I was right at the very beginning of all this, that God really doesn’t want anything to do with American Football, no matter how many football players offer shallow prayers after touchdown drives and “give the God the glory” during press conferences.
If that last scenario is the case, then I guess I will conclude with The Hunger Games’ popular mantra, “May the odds [of your favorite team] be ever in [their] favor” because God probably isn’t.