Well over 100 million people watched last night’s power outage – way more than watch a typical regular season black out. Think about it: the Super Bowl yields the power of getting the equivalent of every living soul in Mexico to sit down and do the same thing at the same time for upwards of four hours. That’s a ton of people. To be more accurate, it’s probably around 10 million tons of people worldwide, all with their eyes fixed on one thing.
Prior to the big game, Peter Enns posted a speculative piece wondering whether God cared as much about the match as we do. Dr. Enns’s short answer was No, don’t be ridiculous. His arguments, briefly, were (1) that God has more important things to worry about than the outcomes of sporting events, (2) that God is more concerned with how people play games (if that is what they are going to do) than whether they succeed at them, and (3) that praying for results in sports is akin to magic. Go ahead and read the blog. Dr. Enns is characteristically playful, self-deprecating, and poignant.
I’ve been thinking about this issue off and on the last ten years or so. I’m generally a sports fan, a bit more passionate about baseball, and, specifically, downright rabid when it comes to Buckeyes football or Reds baseball. (Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, I’ll be actively attending a support group to keep me from drilling holes in my head during the agonizing wait until April.)
Back to the question at hand: Does God care about sports?
I believe, honestly, the answer is Yes.
I used to take Enns’s position, thinking it silly that God would have anything to do with anything so trivial as sports. And of course, you can start to go down the rabbit trails of which team has more, or more fervent, believers; whether God’s “endorsement” of one team equates to His distaste of the other; or whether, as Sports Illustrated (!) explored this week, the God of the crucified Lord could endorse anything so violent as football, or anything so purely selfish as competitive sports.
My position began to alter, however, as I watched the conclusion of the 2004 baseball season and the subsequent playoffs. Therein, the Boston Red Sox, then lovable losers, came storming through the final two months of the season to get into the post-season. Then, as in 2003, they found themselves matched up against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees. In 2003, the Yankees had fought the Sox tooth and nail before utterly deflating them with one dramatic and very late home run.
In October 2004, things actually looked worse for the Sox. Down three games to none in a best of seven series, the Red Sox rallied late in each of the next three games to even the series. Each game seemed a miraculous victory in itself for Boston, let alone the fact that no team in the history of the Major Leagues had won a seven game series after falling behind 3-0. Then, in game seven, the Sox poured on the offense early and never let up. New York was blown out of the water. History was made. A few days later, after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, the Sox had one their first World Series in 87 years.
Did God care that the Sox had won? Did He make them win? I cannot answer these questions.
But I did begin to wonder: Does God speak through major sporting events?
Consider, a team called the Patriots winning Super Bowl XXXVI just five short months after 9/11; the resurgence of dominance across all major sports throughout the 2000’s in the neurotically obsessed (and, let’s face it, perennially depressed) city of Boston; miracle victories of the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI; the fact that the Giants of football have been winning at the same time the Giants of baseball have been taking World Series; the Japanese women’s World Cup win a few months after a devastating tsunami in 2011; or the bizarre overtime victory of Tim Tebow’s Broncos over the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which much maligned and devoutly Christian Tebow threw for 316 yards with the nation watching). This is just to name a few “unreal” sporting coincidences in the last several years.
My point, to finally get to it, is this: with more people watching major sporting events than at any other time in the world’s history, how can God not take advantage of the opportunity to get people’s attention. Over 100 million people saw the lights go out last night. Was God speaking? He certainly had a lot of people’s attention.
Does that mean that God loves the Ravens, but despises the 49ers (and every other NFL team, for that matter)? It’s the wrong question to ask, in my opinion. Does God care about the Super Bowl? I think He does. But I think He cares about it because so many of us care about it.