Does God Care about Sports?

Tim Dalrymple, who recently wrote a book on Jeremy Lin, reflects on whether or not God cares about sports, and if God does, how.

Isn’t it degrading to suggest that God cares about sports?  Isn’t that anthropomorphizing?  Are we, like the ancient Greeks with their stories of gods who did all sorts of silly and petty and naughty things, really supposed to imagine that God dons a cheese-wedge upon his head and roots for the Packers?

With war and famine, death and disease, doesn’t God have better things to do?  Aren’t sports beneath his dignity, unworthy of his time and station?…

Jeremy’s spiritual mentors and teachers have generally been Reformed.  The books he cites as favorites are from John Piper and C.J. Mahaney, and Jeremy’s reflections on his life and career consistently refer to a close and careful divine sovereignty.  It’s what theologians have called providentia specialissima, God’s most fine-grained care in the minutiae of our lives.

When people protest the notion that God should care about sports, they tend to be (1) atheists or agnostics who doubt God’s existence in the first place and find the notion of God caring about sports particularly ridiculous, (2) de facto Deists who believe that God created the order of things and then sits back to watch it all unwind, (3) people of faith who believe that God guides history (through natural or supernatural means) in the broadest sense but does not get involved in the sordid details, or (4) just people of faith who really haven’t thought it through.

Of course God cares about sports.  The Christian God is not a God who refuses to get in the trenches, not a God whose dignity prohibits him from getting involved in the sordid details of human life.  The single most distinctive doctrine in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Incarnation….

God cares about the details, if for no other reason, because God cares about us.  We should affirm common grace: that just as God ordains the sun to shine upon the righteous and the wicked alike, God ordains victory for believers and unbelievers.  God does not simply give the victory to the most righteous individual or team upon the field.  We should make clear that we cannot manipulate the outcome, as though the right formula of prayers and genuflections and “aw shucks” humility can compel God to grant victory.  But we should also affirm, whether or not we’re Reformed, that God cares about the details and working through sports is not beneath God’s dignity.

Perhaps we can be a bit more precise.  God does not care about sports in themselves.  God cares about the people who play them.  God cares about the people who watch and enjoy sports and whose lives are affected by sports.  And God works through sports, as God works through all things, for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  Training the body is, or can be, a profound and necessary school for the spirit.  And in today’s age, when so many Christians live lives of comfortable complacency, when the rigor and striving of faith have been so terribly deemphasized, sports can serve an important role in reminding us of the importance of discipline and collective sacrifice in the pursuit of a greater goal.

So if sports can help us grow closer to God and more mature in our faith — and they can — then yes, God cares about sports for what can be accomplished through them.

What, then, can be accomplished through them?  How do sports help us, as athletes and as spectators, to understand God, to witness God, to love and live with God better?

 

 

 

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.

  • Johnny Melton

    Certainly God cares about sports because he cares about his creation. See more on this theme here http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/tim-tebow-and-the-gift-of-success/

  • Just Sayin’

    Definitely not about American football or the version of rounders called baseball . . .

  • Tim

    sadly, he’s now out for the season with a knee injury

  • Bob

    I fail to see how idolizing a sport team or player, heaping glory and praise on them, showering them with heaps of money, moves us closer to God. Might be just me, but I see it moving us in the other direction to love the world and its entertainments.

  • Jawbone

    You could say the same thing about ANYTHING people are involved in. I fail to see how deliberately hitting someone as hard as you can or glorifying wealth is as holy as, say, teaching a child to read.

  • RDH

    I guess really good Christians like Bob are not caught up in March Madness or the SuperBowl or the World Series.

    I’m not a very good Christian, though, so all of those events interest me. I am so caught up in the world and its entertainments that I filled out a bracket for the NCAA playoffs. The Lord kept me from cussing, though, when Mizzou and Duke busted it.

    Now I am caught up in looking forward to Opening Day. I’m anxious to see what the Cardinals do without Albert. I’m such a fanatic that I even follow the Cardinals on Twitter; heck, I follow the Springfield and Memphis minor league teams.

    No, I do not place Cardinal Nation equal to or above the Kingdom of God or the Body of Christ. I don’t shower players with heaps of money or idolize them. I just like to watch the games played on TV or listen to them on the radio.

    Then I like to have a friendly chat with other guys (or gals) at work about the games and the teams and the players.

    I know I ought to talk to them only about Jesus, but when I do, they shun me. They like me better when I talk about sports. I like it when they like me and talk to me. Is this sinful?

  • Bob

    I’m not the Judge.

  • Kyle

    Has anyone read David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer or witnessed Michael Jordan consummating a high-flying dunk in the 80s or elegant and economical fadeaway in the 90s? If yes to any of the three, there’s little chance you feel comfortable divorcing God from sports altogether or even just downgrading sports to background noise. No, the activity of beloved man is beloved as well.

  • TJJ

    “God made me fast, and when I run it gives Him pleasure” (or something like that from COF). That line and that film answered that question for me years ago, that yes, God does care about sports and the people who play in sport.

    Also the ability of major league BB players to hit fastballs thrown in the mid 90s or faster is a marvel and wondrous feat

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I have concluded that god does not care about professional sports players any more than me playing with my son. In that sense he cares, but he does not care because they are good, he cares because he cares.

  • Chris

    I don’t think much of American football pleases God. The violence to the body is something the secular world sees as something that needs to stop. It’s shameful that we, who teach that the incarnation validates the goodness of the body, were not vocal about the issue first.

    Also, what it takes to reach the professional level and maintain it is too consuming. In the real world, my pastor would warn me that I was a work-a-holic, if I dedicated so much time and energy to be the best computer programmer.

    #9 – the issue for me is not whether or not God cares about sports but the context they are being played in…it is the professionalization of sports and how it is used to promote nationalism and identity that concerns me as a christian…

  • RDH

    I love American football. Fall is the best time of the year. There’s high school football on Friday nights, college football on Saturday afternoons, professional football on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights.

    I’ll tell you something else I like that I consider sporting. I like to go out and lure fish to bite a hook, which I then set in their lips and reel them in. Sometimes I throw them back so someone else (or I) can catch them again. Sometimes I take them home, cook them and eat them.

    Also I go out and shoot defenseless animals and then eat them. If you think American football is bad, I’m sure you loathe American hunting and fishing.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    I hope he cares bc I have two tennis matches to play today…and trust me I’ll be breathing a few prayers along the way!

  • http://www.stonewritten.com Emily Elizabeth Stone

    I enjoyed this very much! Thank you for sharing! I shared it in our “Saturday Sampling”: http://www.stonewritten.com/?p=3700


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