Does God Care about Sports?

This one actually emerges from one’s theological orientation, but there’s a very good set of questions and observations at CNN.com, and in our sports-shaped world today, a good conversation awaits us:

Baseball players point to the heavens after hitting home runs; NFL players pray in the end zone after scoring. Competitors routinely thank Jesus, along with their sponsors, in post-game interviews.


Thanking God from the winner’s circle has become so common that one British newspaper published a letter to the editor entitled: “Leave me out of your petty games –Love, God.”


The British letter raised a question: Does God care who wins on game day? And, if so, do losers somehow have less faith?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mike M

    Of course there’s the image of God thinking that He’s Vince Lombardi…

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    Does God care who wins the Superbowl… or a late-night game of Clue in my living room? Probably not.
    But, in a more general sense, does God care about sports? My answer is: “Yes.”
    God also cares about and loves all sorts of other things that image-bearers make and do: art, engineering, architecture, interior design, poetry, law, philosophy, quantum physics, games of the non-sporting variety… even theology! Not that God thinks any of it to be particularly brilliant or magnificent – its just that any parent is proud when his kid does things that are cool or difficult or original. Including when she hits a home run, or scores a goal.
    If someone thinks that God favors their team over the other one, they are probably missing the point. But if someone wants to recognize that the physical giftedness that enabled them to do something spectacular came from God, I have no problem with it.

  • josenmiami

    in regards to the original question: “hell no”.

  • Scot McKnight

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but in a rigorously Calvinistic world, God determines which team wins and the responsibility is to praise God for his will manifested in the game.
    In a non-Calvinist world, God gives humans freedom and their choices and behaviors and “willpower” shape who wins, and our responsibility is to thank God in a variety of ways, not the least of which would be for the world he has given us and the responsibility he has given us.
    How does one pray, then, for a person or a team one wants to win?

  • Terry L. Mann

    Matt – - – Great words. Great great words.

  • http://www.deepandwide.org pam gillaspie

    Being a Cub fan myself, I believe that sports are yet another means God can use to work endurance in our character. Just sayin . . . ;)

  • http://damascus9.blogspot.com Steve S

    How does one pray, then, for a person or a team one wants to win?
    I dunno Scot, it seems like this argument rules out prayer in all circumstances…
    Child rearing as well as baseball, church planting as well as football, biblical scholarship as well as wrestling… ;-)

  • T

    Scot (4), pam (6): nice!
    Seeing as my Gators have enjoyed so many of God’s blessings of victory in various sports over the last several years, and further, that the Gators seem to only produce a Heisman winner when we have the son of a preacher-man at quarterback, God does care about sports, and the Gator-nation is his chosen people, his special possession.
    (On the serious side, the Psalmist is right that it is amazing that God makes note of us at all. But he does. –see Matt @ 2.)

  • Deets

    Matt#2,
    I am a proud parent. My daughter just smoked a keeper for a beautiful goal in the upper ninety to win the game and advance her team in the tournament.
    What does God think of the fact that I’m patting my daughter on the back and offering all kinds of praise for her great feat over the girl who within 10-feet is being reamed and belittled for letting that little girl beat her.
    I’m sure that God cares about whatever we do, but I’m not sure how he cares about sports.
    Oh, I should say, I’m sure I care about sports way too much. And as a Phillies fan, the last four days I feel more like the keeper.

  • Scott

    I couldn’t agree with Matt more– I think God revels in our talents, our creations, our passions. I think the issue is competition. Does God like competition? Jesus said the first shall be last and the last first (among other things). It seems to me that from a Jesus-centered perspective, God must love the atheletes and thier accomplishments, but care very little for the competitive posturing.

  • Phillip

    I want my children to play sports and watch them, to the extent they can do so and build Christian character. Hence, I want them to learn to win and lose well, even being able to some extent to rejoice with players on the other team when they prevail. I want them to learn to work with others for the good of the whole, rather than simply glory in their own achievements (though we celebrate those too). I want them to learn to exeperiece the joy of play, which I think is a gift of God. But when sports makes them mean-spirited, self-centered, anxious,down on themselves and others, and makes them value wins at any cost, them I want them out of it.

  • Richard

    @ T
    Cyrus of Persia was the Lord’s anointed one for a while too. No reason why the Gators can’t be for a season or two. ;-)

  • Rick

    T-
    “…and the Gator-nation is his chosen people, his special possession.”
    I think I just threw-up a little bit.
    Gainesville is no Jerusalem. Only good thing about the Gators is that they give the Dawgs a horrible time. If they could only do that with Alabama too.

  • Kenton

    Great question, and kudos to Matt on his great answer (#2).
    I don’t watch much boxing anymore, but when I did, I used to love the irony at the end of a fight when the winner had just beat the ever-lovin’ daylights out of his opponent and the first thing out of his mouth at the ringside interview was “I wanna thank God for the ability he’s given me to beat the $#!+ outta that guy.” (OK, it wasn’t quite like that, but the first few words were ALWAYS there.)
    Does God want us beating the $#!+ out of each other? Even if it’s “sport?” When Ray Mancini killed that guy in the ring is that a “I wanna thank God” moment? What about when someone permanently loses some physical or mental function in playing football? (I *do* still watch football, but I *am* rather conflicted about it.)
    No real conclusions here, just further questions. But I think God cares more about these things that go along with sports than the outcome.

  • Bob

    God couldn’t possibly be interested in organized sports. There’s zero chance he’d be so dull as that.

  • T

    Richard, Rick,
    I’ll ask Tebow and Wuerffel to pray for you both.

  • Phillip

    Speaking of Tebow and in relation somewhat to this question, what do you think about using Christian sports celebrities as draws to Christian lectures/churches/events? Granted any Christian, including a well-known athlete, may be called by God to preach or teach. But is sports fame a sufficient reason for putting them on the program? I don’t think so. Who becomes the center of attention in those cases, Jesus or the athlete? Does God care who wins or loses? If not, then why is that the winners are more often invited headline to such events?

  • Mike

    God gives us many gifts – one of which is the enjoyment of competing in/watching sports. When Scot asks, “How does one pray for a person or a team one wants to win?” I submit we pray for fair competition, attitudes, and minimal injuries. In other words, glorifying God should be the chief end (even in sports).
    In regards to Calvinism, I don’t believe God determines who wins the world series. He can’t be a Yankee fan. Although he might use a goat to bring about his will. :}

  • Dublin Matt

    Is winning a blessing? Can winning, in fact, keep us from experiencing God?

  • Scott

    I think it’s telling that even reasonable comments about God on this post are often followed by jokes about our personal sports heros /teams. In my personal experience, growing up in the Bible belt, I found it interesting to watch otherwise kindly and “Jesus-reflecting” pastors, youth ministers, elders and deacons turn into vicious, cut-throat, cursing bullies on the basketball court (not always, but OFTEN). What does this say about competition’s capacity to override our New Nature in Christ? What does this say about our attitudes when it comes to all-things sporting? Sports talent is definitely God-given, but competitive play may be something we should call ourselves to abstain from (as players or viewers) in direct proportion to our own temptation to place “winners” and “winning” above genuine concern for others.

  • James

    Maybe God cheers for the underdog.

  • John M.

    In my classroom when a student athlete asks for prayer that they win a particular game I simply pray that there would not be any serious injuries on either team and that they would play clean and play their very best.
    If I’m pressed about whom God may favor my response? God looks down upon hearing Christians on both teams praying for a win, and he says, “May the best team win!” :) I guess this reveals my bias towards free-will over what Scott calls “rigorous calvanism”.
    Scott, I like what you’re saying about God’s viewpoint of our competiveness.

  • Brian

    I realize I’m late to this little party, but if He’s got every hair on an athlete’s head counted, how could He NOT care about sports? I don’t mean to suggest that God is actively involved in the outcome of a particular game, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that He actively uses those games (wins, losses, injuries, etc.) in a redemptive way in the athlete’s life.

  • Brad

    I was an athlete through college. Loved the game of basketball. Became a coach, and coached high school basketball for 14 years. It zapped my joy of the game because it was so political. The parents (even those who professed to be Christians) were consumed with their child’s playing time and my ineptness at coaching the right way, which was whichever way the parent I was talking to thought I should coach (the right way always involved their child getting a lot of playing time by the way). I’m with Phillip. When the sport becomes about anything but enjoying the game and the challenge and (in team sports) learning that each person has a unique and significant role to play (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12), then sports becomes another idol. It happened to me as a coach. I had to put it behind me.
    Secondly, the connections of football to war (in terminology and a modified violence) lead me to wonder about the cultural ramifications of sports. Is something like football a way to feed a militant culture or a result of a militant culture? Is it a way to curb the violent tendencies of a culture or does it foster violence and militance. Take another step and look at Ultimate Fighting. Does this turn people into animals? UF and Cock-fighting seem to look the same. How often have we heard the cliche that NFL players are the new Gladiators, and we know what happened in Roman culture.
    So does God care about sports? If we care about them, God cares about them because sports are, as my father loves to say, the ultimate art. Actors on a stage, the outcome uncertain, the universal rules in place, and humans making choices about what to think, believe, and do. God cares about sport because he cares about how we play. Do we take short cuts (cheat)? Do we bend the rules because that’s what gives us an advantage? Do we treat our fellow players kindly, compassionately, and with love? Do we treat our opponent with the same qualities (love your enemies)? God cares about sports only in so much as it teaches us about His character and our character or lack thereof and what it is to have grace in the midst of victory or defeat because in the end we’re all the same.
    Christ was a loser in the eyes of most humanity. Maybe we should play to lose.

  • http://evangelical.patheos.com Timothy Dalrymple

    I like the suggestion that God roots for the underdog. Call it a preferential option.
    God does not care about sports per se. Yet God does care about athletes, and athletics can be enormously influential in shaping the spiritual lives of athletes. I don’t mean this to be self-serving, but my own story illustrates the point, I think, pretty well:
    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Olympic-Promised-Land.html
    You can find a link to our series on Gymnastics, Faith and Olympics Glory, and there are some stories in there that also illustrate the power of athletics as a tool in our lives for God to shape us. Some pretty compelling stories, actually.


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