100+ Million People Watched the Super Bowl; Was God Watching Too?

via publicreligion.org

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.

A National Holiday

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I know we’ve been plowing through N.T. Wright’s new book, How God Became King, but we pause today in observance of baseball’s opening day, a holiday if ever there was one. My beloved Reds begin their summer-long journey in about an hour. Go, turn on a game this afternoon (or evening), get a dog and a beer (or soda), and enjoy!

When Jesus Taught His Disciples to Pray, Did He Teach Them to Tebow?

My own New England Patriots travel to sunny Denver this weekend to tackle (literally!) the Broncos.  I’m excited about this game for two reasons: (1) it’s football involving my favorite team and (2) I get to watch Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow scorching the Jets (via NYT)

For those who don’t know, Tebow is the epicenter of one of the strangest sports phenomena of my lifetime.  Tim Tebow was one of the greatest college football players of all time as quarterback of the Florida Gators from 2006-09.  Coming out of college, however, pro scouts weren’t sure how well he would do in the NFL given his unorthodox throwing style.  Basically, Tebow doesn’t play like a normal quarterback.  Sports commentators have spent the last two years debating whether he can actually do it.  Nevertheless, all Tebow seems to do is win.  (He’s 7-1 as a starter for the Broncos.)  So there’s that.

Factor into this that Tebow is unabashedly a devout Christian.  He was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionaries and seems to have grown to take his faith seriously as his own.  When he’s not winning football games, he can be seeing praying (or “Tebowing“) or mentioning his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in an interview.

The end result (so far) is that the entire nation — not limited to sports fans — is talking about Tebow.  People either love him or hate him.  Regardless of which side of the fence you camp, your eyes are fixed on Tebow.

My two cents on why Tim Tebow is so compelling?  He’s living a public life (and a good one, at that) with complete conviction.  Tebow makes no apologies for praying publicly (and doesn’t require anyone else do so; and doesn’t look down his nose at others when they don’t).  He doesn’t believe he should get a pass because he’s a decent person.  He understands that he’s easy to make fun of.  He’s working hard, just like, well, not everyone else.

As far as Tebow’s concerned, if he’s going to be a Christian, he’s going to be thoroughly Christian.  Whatever your own stated beliefs, or whatever your vocation, or however else you choose to identify yourself, you probably dream, like me, about diving into that with both feet.  At least, that’s what I’m tebowing for the grace to do.

Put away the White Wash: A Lesson from the Ongoing PSU Scandal

Things have settled enough, I think, to say something about the scandal that’s been pouring out of Penn State the last few weeks.  The alleged crimes of former football coach Jerry Sandusky that are coming to light are truly awful — sickening, really.  Not far behind has been the silence of those who could have cut off the atrocities long ago.  No one disagrees; these are terrible facts rising to the surface from all parties.

As is common whenever horrific and particularly shameful incidents tarnish a community, Penn State, in the immediate aftermath, is attempting to distance itself from Joe Paterno, its iconic head football coach.  (I use “iconic” in the strongest sense, for JoePa is revered even by Nittany Lions who couldn’t care less for football.)  Not only has Paterno been the longest tenured head coach in college football’s premier division (he’s been at PSU since 1950 and head coach since ’66), but he has won more games (409) than any other head coach in history.  Nevertheless, the university has rightly fired JoePa for his silence on this issue.

By all accounts, the Penn State trustees’ hands were tied.  Paterno had to go.

Beyond this, however, there resides in Happy Valley an uneasy tension.  Just how far should the university community remove itself from this man, who virtually built the town single-handedly?  At least one writer is wondering aloud whether the university should purchase whitewash in bulk.

As bitter these days are for Penn Staters, it would be unwise to so quickly attempt to expunge their history of Paterno’s presence.  As detrimental as it would be to overlook the current scandal within the community, it would do an equal disservice to forget the highlights of JoePa’s legacy.

There is no perfect hero.  The sooner we recognize the fact, the better equipped we’ll be to respond well to the inevitable disappointment.  Hide this from ourselves, and we’re more likely to cover over wrongs and operate in denial.

From a biblical perspective (yep, I went there), David is among the most revered characters in the Jews’ long history.  He is consistently remembered glowingly as the high water mark in the age of kingship in Judah and Israel. Moreover, his name becomes synonymous with all messianic hopes as they develop over the centuries.  Abraham, Moses, and David rise above Jewish biblical history like three proud and sturdy peaks over the plains of Israel’s story.

And yet, David’s own story, as recorded in 1 & 2 Samuel, is an inseparable mixture, both sweet and sour.  Indeed, it is commonplace among commentators that David’s life from 2 Samuel 11 (the Bathsheba affair) is an unmitigated disaster.  With hardly a merciful bump along the way, David proceeds straight downwards toward his death following the conspiracy with Bathsheba and against Uriah.  His family disintegrates, his hold on the throne is threatened by on of his own children, and he ultimately dies weak and dispassionate.

Nevertheless, the biblical authors saw fit to record and preserve both halves of David’s life.  The truth, both pretty and unpleasant, is of the highest value.  Indeed, both sides of every human being ought to be preserved.  For the Penn State community, though it will take time, healing will come in its fullest forms when they can review Joe Paterno the man in all his strengths as well as his flaws.  Both sides can and must live side by side.