Tim Tebow Have I Loved, The Metric System Have I Hated?

I was going to refrain from posting anything on the topic of Tim Tebow throwing 316 yards. But since it is 2012, and in addition to the Mayan calendar, apparently Ronald Weinland (formerly of the Worldwide Church of God) is predicting the end of the world this year, it seems worth mentioning both, since they are connected.

These numbering systems are arbitrary. If Tebow threw 316 yards, then he threw 288.9504 meters. There is no chapter 288 verse 9504 in the Bible. And in the original manuscripts, there aren’t even any 3:16s.

People making much of dates and numbers which are arbitrary human inventions illustrates one of the hurdles that stands in the way of people using critical thinking: we tend to find significance even in the genuinely random. And so whether one is looking for evidence of a miracle or a conspiracy, this tendency of human beings has the potential to lead us into error.

But there’s something worse about treating numbers in a football game as a sign from God. To see a miracle in a football game, while God apparently refrains from giving miracles to people suffering from disease and starvation, seems to me really bad religion. Why bring God into it in ways that make God out to be a football fan who couldn’t care less about anyone when the game is on? Talk about some of us making God in our own image!

  • http://twitter.com/matthies67 Brad S. Matthies

    Related: During WWI the Germans had this slogan: “Gott Strafe England” which meant “may God punish England.”  In turn England called on God to save their king and country.  This prompted J.C. Squire to write this little ditty:

    God heard the embattled nations sing and shout

    “Gott strafe England” and “God save the King!”

    God this, God that, and God the other thing –

    “Good God!” said God, “I’ve got my work cut out!”

    The same thing occurred during the American Civil War – both North and South invoked God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Harrison/1558354000 Jim Harrison

    When Bush won in Florida, I recalled the Biblical passage “I returned and a saw that under the sun, the race is not to the swift…” Was it a coincidence or prophesy that this passage is Ecclesiastes 9:11? 

  • http://tunabay.com Keika

    When I became 666 months old, God spoke to me to go into the Nevada desert to have a one-on-one conversation with Jesus.  I didn’t know it was my 666th month of life until Jesus and I together, faced and defeated Satan.  I’ve spun a fictional fantasy from this numerical incident and after seeing how Tebow moved around the Steelers defense, I recognized how his Spirit was defying forces that I’ve encountered and could not have defeated without help from God. Did anyone ‘count’ how many fowls were committed on Tebow and not called?

    http://ofthelove.com

  • El Bryan Libre

    If I’m not mistaken, you don’t actually believe we can say anything was caused by God, including miracles. Is that true?

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I wouldn’t say that. First, what do you mean by “miracles”? I’d say my stance is one of not taking it upon myself to determine what if anything God may be doing in any situation or event, rather than it being the case that I either affirm or deny that things are or are not caused by God.

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  • El Bryan Libre

    Miracles like healings that occur directly after prayer or something. 
    “I’d say my stance is one of not taking it upon myself to determine what if anything God may be doing in any situation or event, rather than it being the case that I either affirm or deny that things are or are not caused by God. ”

    I’m not sure what the difference is except maybe in degree, but the point remains that no matter what event happens you would never claim that God is somehow involved by either approving, causing or answering a prayer. So whether we’re talking about Tebow scoring a touchdown and giving credit to God or someone being immediately healed in response to prayer your stance is the same maybe God did it maybe he didn’t, we can’t know… however you might find the Tebow thing a bit more offensive for whatever reason.

  • Just Sayin’

    Does he really adopt those elaborate prayer poses in the middle of games?  How long do they (the poses) last?  This bloke must really love himself.

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  • James Snapp Jr

    Well . . . first, I acknowledge that my cat’s name is Elway.

    I’m not saying that it’s a divine act that Tim Tebow — known for his “John 3:16″ facebars — threw for 316 yards in the recent victory over the Steelers.   But I don’t follow the logic of your case that it’s not a divine act just because the verse-numbers are not part of the original text of the Bible.   Granting that the verse-numbers /could/ have been different, and that the units of measurement /could/ have been different, the fact is that they are not different.  What is the difference between what you are saying, and the person who says, “That stop-sign could just as easily have been square instead of octagonal, and purple instead of red, so full speed ahead!”? Does a sign-maker have to make all his paints ex nihilo before the signs are legible?  Does God refrain from ever speaking in the language of coincidence?  It’s a language that spiritual babies understand when they hear it, though the sophisticated consider it all gibberish.

    As for the objection that it’s bad religion to picture God involved in a football game while allowing people to suffer from disease and starvation:   God works as He sees fit. Can you say with certainty that there is no way that a prayer for fewer deaths via disease and starvation, or a prayer for more souls saved, will be answered because the Broncos won and the Steelers lost?   No.   But we can say — if we agree with Jesus, at least — that God cares about flowers and sparrows; and if a sparrow can have a place in God’s plans, then why not a Bronco?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Sunshinehughes74

      Amen…I love your answer…perhaps God saved just one soul by takeing himself known to millions of viewers…by saying..hello I am here…not so much by saying he loves football..there are so many nonbelievers out there…some may be sports fans..god will make himself known to every living soul before their death….again..amen in your stand for God

  • Gary

    Jim said, “When Bush won in Florida”…if you are talking about Reggie Bush, ex-USC, ex San Diego native, he always had 619 under his eyes, for the San Diego area code, not a bible verse. Although now that he got traded to Miami from New Orleans, I don’t know what he has under his eyes (other than bags….from lots of the good life in both New Orleans and Miami).

  • Gary

    Jim….Sorry, I’m an idiot. I just realized you were probably talking about George Bush, not Reggie Bush. That’s what I get for being from San Diego.

  • Isaiah_burton

    Certainly I agree that I would rather have God healing the sick or feeding the hungry, but when you say God wouldn’t do one thing (divinely help Tebow win a football game) because something you want done would be better, aren’t you also creating a God in your own image? Aren’t you saying God’s priorities should line up with yours? Maybe God is working on feeding the hungry and helping Tebow win football games. Maybe God can walk and chew gum as well! I personally think far to many of us worship a God of our own creation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    It seems to me that considering God to intervene in something as trivial as a football game while refraining to do so in serious matters of injustice or starvation is to make God out to be a monster. That some Americans cannot see that is, I think, evidence of just how skewed our perspective is as a wealthy nation. 

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  • James Snapp Jr

    I disagree on both counts.  First, a football game is not trivial when it can motivate tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people to read the Bible, even if just one verse, and contemplate God’s love.  Right?  Perhaps someone inspired by Tim Tebow’s example will read the Gospel of John and be motivated, down the road, to feed many physically hungry people; in the meantime, many spiritually hungry people have been fed by the Word of God as a result of the 316-game.   Second, the principle you’re using could condemn Christ Himself:  how trivial to feed 5,000 people instead of feeding all hungry people on earth.  How monstrous to heal Bartimaeus instead of healing all sick people on earth.  Such objections are silenced when one finds oneself fed and healed, a thankful beneficiary of God’s puzzling focused grace.  While as individuals we each are more trivial than the whole of humanity, this does not mean that God considers anyone trivial, rather, ”I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me.”    

    God works through His people, and His people work in a variety of ways, some to feed and heal; others to instruct; others to inspire.  And God is at work in them all, including football players.  Whether the statistics in the 316 were an act of providence, who can say — but it seems presumptuous to insist that they weren’t.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
     

    • Brad

      Mr. Snapp,

      I can’t help but play the devil’s advocate once again. Based on your last response I could argue that the professional wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin was on a God-ordained mission to inspire millions of teens (i.e. the WWE’s target market) to further investigate the TRUE meaning of Austin 3:16 - ”Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!!!”  In fact, his slogan was so popular that it become the best selling t-shirt in WWE history. 

      http://www.tmz.com/2012/01/09/tim-tebow-stone-cold-steve-austin-316/#.TwwcH6VSRho 

      Included in Austin’s persona and message were also these things:

      - Solving problems through violence
      - Drinking beer (he always drank cans of beer in the ring)
      - Disrespect for authority
       
      So, much like the 90s, God apparently is again focusing his puzzling grace on another media icon. 

      Quoting Mr. Austin: “And that’s the bottom line, ’cause Stone Cold said so!” 

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      For some, ending injustice and oppression would lead many people to believe that there is a God of the sort who cares about such things more than the games humans play.

      Again, I don’t think you’ve addressed my suggestion that the very fact of considering American football to be something other than trivial is a reflection of a skewed, wealthy, and profoundly unbiblical perspective.

  • http://digestofworms.blogspot.com admiralmattbar

    Not sure the metric system or arbitrary numbering of Bible verses really undermines the assertion of it being a miracle (though I would imagine that you, like me, assign a somewhat low prior probability to God intervening in football which is lower than a 3:16 wearing player making 316 yards this season by chance).  Believers look at this like language.  Books are just assortments of wood with jots on them until one applies the concept of language to them.  The author knows what the reader is going to be looking for to make sense out of those jots and designs them accordingly.  

    Tebow’s yardage is not seen as a message from God to the early church, it is seen as a message from God to contemporary Christians who assign a high value to John 3:16  using a player who has already identified himself with that particular verse in a sport that uses yards and not meters.  Therefore it does not make sense to dismiss this as a miracle purely on the grounds that the supposed message has come in the form of yards and is based on arbitrary human numbering.  The opportunity cost of raining mana on certain Africa countries is troubling though.

    • http://ulen.wordpress.com/ Nelu

      are you serious sir? can you scientifically prove it was 316 yards – no subdivision of yards shorter or longer (Here in Europe we use metric unit – not as godly as the yards I suppose), no approximation. While the faith of this guy could work as a placebo for him, that does not mean that God intervened to make the oval shaped object (and that is not a ball, the ball is round) travel the distance. 

      • http://digestofworms.blogspot.com admiralmattbar

        I’m not trying to prove anything.  I simply said that if God is the type of person to communicate to believers through football games it makes sense to use elements common to football and prior information about the players.  Dr. McGrath considers the fact that yards and verse numbers are entirely human constructions therefore it would not make sense for God to communicate through them.  The point of my comment was to say that using exclusively those things (and not the low probability we each seem to hold that God involves himself in sports -either football or football, the imperial system or Tim Tebow’s public expressions of faith) we cannot rule out the possibility of God’s involvement.  I take it that you, like me, find it hard to believe that God would affect the score of a public sporting event like this.  I’m interested in what part of my comment suggested that yards are more godly than meters.

        • http://ulen.wordpress.com/ Nelu

          yards don’t make sense in most of Europe since we use metric units. Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal for a 2 months spell (as he plays football for a team in USA now) and he came on as a substitute last night and he scored his 227th goal for the club in the 78th minute. I wonder if there is a message in that (probably not since he is a Muslim, but probably we should look in the Koran). Can you see the silliness in this? Probably not!

  • http://ulen.wordpress.com/ Nelu

    First of all you should know that in football you don’t throw the ball, you kick the ball with your feet – or at least the football that most of the countries in the world play (in the word football is from foot and ball which is round). I am baffled by the narrowness of American perspective on things and of the particular theological reading of “God and us”!

  • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

    What if Broncos lose 3-16 against the Patriots this weekend? Is that the Lord at work also? What if Tebow gets sacked 3 times for 16 total yards lost? Would that be a sign? I know these are all theoretical, and not very likely (Pats are probably going to hit the 40-mark in points in this one; perhaps there will be a 66-6 final tally?) but I don’t know if anyone would be willing to attribute numerical coincidences with negative outcomes to the Lord.
    There’s no reason to believe God cares a whit about sports. Nobody is likely to find Jesus just because Tebow keeps writing 3:16 on his face and then those numbers happen to come out somewhere in a win. If anyone did find the miraculous in such a random coincidence, they’d probably quickly lose their faith when the same signs failed to appear in their own lives, or in other, more desperate circumstances.
    There are many people who don’t have the spiritual fortitude of a Job who lose their faiths due to repeated loss and suffering in their lives. For every one dupe swayed by Tebow-miracles, you have 50 other folks turning away from God out of the misery of unanswered prayers.
    In other words, it would be an odd and insignificant thing on which God focused his divine powers to garner attention. If God is indeed inclined to practicing football numerology, it would only prove that God is a total dick who doesn’t care about revealing himself in a way that significantly helps or heals anyone. Pretending to know the mind of God is hubris to the nth degree, but, is it safe to dismiss the 316 coincidence as hooey? By all means.

  • Isaiah_burton

    First, the trivality of football is a perspective. Just because you think football is trivial doesn’t mean that God does. Secondly, maybe God does think football is trivial, but maybe he likes Tebow a great deal. Maybe God is rewarding Tebow for his faithfullness? By all accounts he is a good kid who goes to the Phillipines every year to do the kind of work you say God should be doing! I’m not sure whether this is a disscussion about transcendence vs. emminence or about some people’s desire to make God in the image of their own false piety.

    • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

      The triviality of football is not an issue of perspective; football IS trivial. When a little boy in the ghetto goes hungry for the third night in a row while his drunk dad beats his mom to a pulp, Tim Tebow’s performance playing on the TV behind this brutal tableau is the last thing on his mind. It should be the last thing on our minds as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love football as much as the next guy. If you read this comment and walked away saying “Gee, Darren doesn’t like football,” YOU WOULD BE WRONG. But there are many more important things in this world we should be concerned about. 
      Maybe there are numerical coincidences in the actual important things as well, but since numerical coincidences are equally as trivial, focusing on them is a waste of time. In fact, these coincidences seem to distract us from what’s important. Did you ever see the movie Magnolia? I’m not a huge fan of it, but one thing it does effectively is that it strings together a bunch of disparate characters and events so that they coincide significantly. Because of a story and plot structure, the coincidences are told to us (the audience) although the characters are by-and-large oblivious to them. But the point the film seems to be making is that these coincidences happen ALL THE TIME, and the only time we actually notice them is because they’ve been pointed out to us in some way (in this case, by the storytelling.) We don’t notice the rest, because it seems trivial. The problem is, it’s ALL trivial, we’re just picking and choosing what to be amazed/mystified by. It’s all random but it’s a big part of human nature to look for patterns in the chaos. It’s in our DNA. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” We can try and find order in those ways, but it’s a fruitless search.
      I can’t imagine the mind that would be swayed by numerical coincidences. I understand believers go for it, but that’s because they already believe in God. Nothing is going to shake the foundations of a hardcore believer. But is a non-believer suddenly going to be convinced of the need for their salvation simply because Tim Tebow threw his favorite Bible verse? I’m pretty sure there is no such non-believer on this planet.

  • Just Sayin’

    Where’s the evidence that this self-conscious posturing has encouraged a single individual to read the Bible, never mind “tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people to read the Bible”? Seems far more likely to have turned people off!

  • James Snapp Jr

    To JMcG:   You’re moving the goalposts; we’re no longer on the initial subject of why the use of chapters and verses does not, or would not, preclude divine involvement. Nevertheless: no endeavor, not even playing football, is so insignificant that it is beyond God’s ability to use.   You’ve read Zechariah: “Who has despised the day of small things?”  Right?  

    In addition, the NFL’s significance goes far beyond the game on the field; dozens of charities have benefitted from the goodwill of players, coaches, owners, and fans. Consider the Million Meal Marathon that was held at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team) a couple of months ago.   Trivial?   I doubt if the people who ate the food that was packed that day would agree.   That’s just one example of how God’s purposes can be advanced by the things that most people consider trivial.   And why should we be surprised if God works this way; why should anyone deny that God works this way — a God to whom two mites are a fortune?

     

    To Darren:   Are your questions not rationalizations, attempting to minimize what happened? A lot of attention has been drawn to John 3:16 as a result of the statistical parallel between those chapter-and-verse numbers and Tim Tebow’s 316 passing yards. For someone who states that pretending to know the mind of God is hubris, you sure seem confident that God thinks that football games are beneath His dignity. Instead of drawing a rudely worded conclusion about what it would mean if God cared about football, why not consider what it would mean if God cared about everything everyone does, and what it would mean if God can use any enterprise to advance His purposes?

    To Just Sayin:   You asked where the evidence is that people were motivated by the coincidence to read the Bible.   ”John 3:16″ was the number one item searched on Google after the game.   The whole verse appeared in newspaper articles and blog-reports.  But maybe that was just a coincidence.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

      I cannot possibly “minimize what happened” any more than to the level of insignificance it already is. Not a single person who had never heard that verse before looked up that verse after the results of that game and underwent a life-changing transformation as a result. And even if one did, show me that person and I’ll show you at least 25 people that I know personally who continue to avoid religious teachings specifically because of pious expressions of faith from prominent public figures like Tebow (and the media circuses that follow them). They see these expressions as sanctimonious and roll their eyes when 316 “miracles” occur. I roll my eyes too, but not at Tebow; I roll them at the people who insist that the one random coincidence they happened to notice out of a string of randomness is some sort of affirmation of their faith. It almost makes a person question the strength of that individual’s faith in those situations.
      As Prof James suggests, it’s a human-made, arbitrary number that does nothing and goes nowhere. It’s no different than the people who see Jesus in toast or the Virgin Mary on a billboard; they hope to establish divine significance to a random and chaotic world so they can attribute that significance to God. It must be tough needing the miraculous to confirm belief, because this is not a very miraculous world. The coincidences are far too infrequent and -like 316 yards or Jesus toast- don’t do such-of-a-much for the suffering and misery in the world.
      We only notice coincidences that mean something to us. It’s human nature, so there’s nothing wrong with the initial reflex. But neither is there anything divine or miraculous in it. One of the worst notions in almost all religions is to insist that there’s no such thing as purposelessness.

    • Just Sayin’

      “To Just Sayin: You asked where the evidence is that people were motivated by the coincidence to read the Bible. “John 3:16″ was the number one item searched on Google after the game. The whole verse appeared in newspaper articles and blog-reports. But maybe that was just a coincidence.”
      Use your brain (and please stop dishonestly putting words into other people’s mouths — I made no mention of any “coincidence”). All that shows is that people want to read about this clown and his silly, immature posturing. You have zero evidence that a single individual has opened a Bible because of his kitsch actions. And it’s not as if this verse hasn’t been emblazoned in the background of many American sporting events for decades — try looking up some old golf footage!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    The issue for me in relation to the numbers is and has been from the outset the fact that they are arbitrary and things in which human beings a prone to find significance where there is none.

    In relation to positing God either extending the ball’s flight or perhaps even cutting it short so as to make it 316 yards, I still find it incredible that anyone would say that God would fail to intervene in more serious matters but would “miraculously” cause an American football player to throw a number of yards that he could have thrown even without divine intervention.

    • El Bryan Libre

      So you do believe God can intervene in human affairs but you think we could never know and should never say he is or isn’t? Is that correct? However in the case of football you don’t think God would ever intervene because there are sick people in the world and injustices still taking place even though we wouldn’t know if he did heal those people or right the injustices since we can’t know what God does or doesn’t do?

      Do you think it is possible that God could intervene in a football game even though you don’t think he would and don’t think we’d know it even if he did?

      • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Bryan, I do not claim to know exactly by what means or in what ways God may or may not act in the world. I believe, on the basis of the book of Job and other Scripture but also on the basis of experience, that it is not only unwise but dangerous to assume that things going well is a sign of divine favor or that things going poorly is a sign of divine displeasure.

        • El bryan Libre

          I agree with that but I’m trying to pin you down here on whether you believe God could in fact intervene in a football game. Whether you think we wouldn’t be able to say for sure he did or didn’t in a particular insurance is another issue. Do you believe he could?

          The point I’m getting at here is that although you seem upset that people would even suggest that God would get involved in a football game much less know that he got involved in this particular football game it seems you would have that same reaction to anything else that happens in our lives that we care about whether it be in our marriages, with our kids, our jobs, our callings, our relationships, because there are sick people who haven’t been healed and injustices that haven’t been made right and those other things are trivial in comparison and obviously God wouldn’t bother himself with things so trivial when there are more important things he still hasn’t gotten too.

          • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Bryan, May I answer by asking a couple of questions? First, do you believe that God intervenes in sports events to give one team an advantage over the other, whether by boosting the performance of one side or by messing up the performance of the other? Do you believe that God would do that even if there were Christians on both teams, if ever?

            Second, how would one tell that God was helping a team, as opposed to them just playing better or being lucky or both? Would there be evidence of supernatural intervention? If so, do you consider Tim Tebow’s throws in the game of the famous 316 yards to have shown evidence of supernatural help beyond what he was humanly capable of? If so, what was it? If not, then should the mere number of yards be treated as evidence of supernatural interference in the game?

  • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

    Now if the Broncos beat the Patriots, I might have to rethink my philosophy.

  • http://elbryanlibre.wordpress.com/ El Bryan Libre

    James,
    How ’bout answering with an answer? ; )

    1.) If God is the type that is involved in human affairs and intervenes or changes outcomes from what they would be on their own, then yes I believe he could even intervene in a football game whether it’s the NFL or a backyard game. Do I beleive he would? I don’t know and don’t personally care whether he has or hasn’t. But I don’t believe he absolutely wouldn’t. If God could intervene in my job and give me some extra help where I needed it (I believe he can) I don’t see why he couldn’t help a quarterback for whatever reason he deemed fit. I beleive God could even choose to give one Christian an advantage over the other in a situation where they were competing for something, like if two Christians interviewed for the same job.

    2.) I don’t think you would be able to undeniably know (“tell”) unless it was something crazy out of the ordinary. However I don’t think that means someone like Tebow couldn’t personally believe God helped him win, or just play well, or just avoid injury and keep his job. I don’t think everyone should be expected to believe God helped Tebow win (I’m agnostic about it and don’t personally care if God did or didn’t help him) but I don’t think that means someone like Tebow shouldn’t beleive God helped him. Just the same I don’t think everyone has to believe God helped me get my job, or meet my wife, or helped my children be born safe and healthy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t beleive he did and that I’m wrong for believing so.

    BTW, do you really personally know people who think Tebow’s win was a sign from God? I don’t. I know people that thought it was kind of neat that he focuses on John 3:16 and then threw 316 yards, and it was the last play of the game, where he threw a touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to win the game (a playoff game and the quickest overtime ever), that got him to 316. But none of them seriously declared it a sign from God.

    • James F. McGrath

      I don’t know anyone personally that thinks that Tebow throwing 316 yards was a sign from God. But I don’t watch sports most of the time, so this probably says more about me and my friends rather than anything reliable about popular opinion. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/d_pardee Darren Pardee

    “BTW, do you really personally know people who think Tebow’s win was a sign from God?”

    See poll here –> http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31751_162-57358717-10391697/poll-does-god-help-tebow-win-43-say-yes/

    Chances are, a little less than half the people you know do.

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