Will God Be Tailgating at the Super Bowl? (I’m going with no)

Red Letter Christians recently posted the statistic that 3 in 10 Americans believe God will play a role in determining which team wins the Super Bowl.

I could say something cute about how horribly shortsighted and ridiculous this is about God, because we all know God is really a baseball fan, but I won’t.

The Red Letter Christians post adds that about half of professional athletes believe that God rewards their faith by giving them health and success on the field.

Reading this gave me one of those “Really!?! with Seth and Amy” moments. I was a decent athlete back in the day, and I recall falling into the trap of praying that God would give me the victory on the pitching mound. Still I always sensed that God had better things to do than make sure I could spot my fastball (which he never quite did), so I eventually stopped.

My prayer morphed to, “Lord, please help me be less of a smack talking idiot while I play a game for the next 3 hours.” I’m not sure whether either of these prayers actually stuck, but the latter is better than the former.

I know this is cliche, but I will say it anyway. With all the pain and suffering in the world, on our streets, in our families, and in us, can we actually harbor–for even a moment–that God is open to be persuaded about the outcome of a game and the performance of individual athletes?

Sports, as they say, is a microcosm of life–which may be one reason why people think real life prayer can be transferred to a game. Or, perhaps sports is a microcosm of military conflict, so prayer for victory in a game is analogous to praying for victory in war (though, here, too I wonder whether God is rooting for one country to kill more people than the other country, but that’s another topic).

Or maybe we just so desperately want to have a God-sighting in our lives that we project our interest in sports onto God and wait for him to show up and throw back a cold one with us.

Whatever the reason, the theology that possesses one to conclude that God directs the outcome of sporting events rests somewhere on the spectrum of childishness—egocentrism—insanity.

I get the whole sports enthusiasm thing (have I mentioned lately I am a Yankee fan?). I want so badly for my team to win, but for Super Bowl fans, may I suggest tactics that seem to work well for me, like voodoo or some basic superstitions? I have documented proof that these rituals brought to NY 4 World Championships in 5 years from 1996-2000, and later sustained them over the Phillies in 2009.

Try hugging the same pillow, distracting the opposing player by yelling at the TV, or repeating the same thing over and over again like a mantra while rocking back and forth (throw a SHORT pass throw a SHORT pass throw a SHORT pass). And of course, there are always the standbys of sitting in the same exact place on the sofa, wearing a team jersey, performing various pre-game rituals (not showering, eating a bag of Oreos, etc.)

Do what you have to do, but leave God out of it. Try not to think of  “Will God step in and give my team the victory? ?” as a subset of  the Problem of Evil (“Why does an all good and all powerful God let bad things happen?”). This isn’t that complicated. Just leave God out of it.

When the game is over, if you really want God hanging around, you can ask him what he thinks is important, what he wants you to do for him. One thing I know: it won’t involve the outcome of grown ups playing games.


reviewing two reviews of “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” (3)
get to know me: my approach to interpreting the Bible, in 5 words
preeeetty sure my version of Christianity is right and yours is wrong
“Patterns of Evidence” and patterns of culture-war rhetoric: (2)
  • Andrew

    I remember Evander Holyfield, a great boxer, who had a born again experience (with Benny Hinn of all people) in the early 90s and constantly professed his wins as acts of God in post-fight interviews (“if God is with you, can’t no man be against you”).
    This went so far that he claimed he had a vision from God that he would knock out Lennox Lewis in the 3rd round; he REALLY believed this. So the 3rd round came, and the Real Deal tried all he could but didn’t get the KO. He was so dejected after that round that he fought the rest of the fight in a comatose and should have lost a clear decision (he was given a gift Draw and lost the subsequent rematch)
    After that fight, Evander spoke far less of God in post-fight interviews.

  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    “The theology that possesses one to conclude that God directs the outcome of sporting events rests somewhere on the spectrum of childishness—egocentrism—insanity.” Now we’re talking Pete… I have long felt athletes attributing their wins to God a bit ludicrous and the fact that so many Christians embrace their posturing even more so. After one of the play off games I heard a player interviewed who said, “All the glory be to God! No weapon formed against us shall remain!” and I thought, “Seriously? Aren’t we proof texting just a tad?”

    I surf (although it has been a view months since I’ve been in the water). After being hit in the head by my board and stung by a jelly fish I started praying before paddling out. I pray protection for myself, the other surfers and all the creatures in the sea. And that includes the sharks too. Because God made them too and I’m in their house. But with all the problems in the world, we all have much bigger prayers to fry – that is for sure. If dogs can pray before they eat, we can send a few words upstairs on the more important issues.

    I would love to have you write something about prayer in war. Seems you’re headed there anyway. I’m currently learning a rather subversive monologue of Jael and she has quite a few things to say on the topic.

    Thanks for the post. No, you didn’t mention that you were a Yankee’s fan and it’s hard to imagine that you’d ever talk smack.

  • Randy

    Funny post, Peter. Personally, I don’t think God is interested in our sports, whatever they may be; football, baseball, basketball, etc. I love football and some basketball; any other sports I am really not that concerned with. I think God is interested in the souls of men because that is what He did for us when He sent His Son to die for us on the cross. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for the someone’s team to win the Superbowl; He died to save us from our sins.

    • peteenns

      But might God be interested in more than just our souls?

      • Randy

        I agree, but still Jesus came to save us, which shows the impetus of God’s heart.

      • Andrew

        I would question the notion that God has interests in the same ways that human beings do, ie I like peanut butter, but dislike cold mushrooms. I think a general problem, but an understandable one, is that people construe of God as basically being an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural human making decisions in a similar fashion as people (like a super Zeus, albeit a merciful one), for the reasons that a) That’s mainly our only frame of reference and b) there is the literal interpretation of the Genesis quote of us “made in his image,” and of course other sections of the OT have God shouting out commands(apparently in Hebrew) and having conservations with people; again if read literally.

        • Andrew

          ah, that’s conversations!

  • Byron Curtis
  • Jim

    Is it ok to say a blessing over any steroids you are taking? Oh ya, congrats to SF in advance.

    • Jim

      I miscalculated the prophecy of the 70 weeks (heptad in Dan 9:24) 70 x7 = 49 (SF 49rs) x 10 (clearly), but I forgot to take into account verse 26 (good guys shall be cut off).

      • http://facebook.com/priceofdiscernment David M

        At least you realized where you went wrong!

  • Just Sayin’

    This seems to be (yet another) peculiarly American phenomenon.

  • Not Arthur

    “I could say something cute about how horribly shortsighted and ridiculous this is about God, because we all know God is really a baseball fan, but I won’t.”

    But you did!

    Did I just blow your mind!!!!

  • Ron Schooler

    Do you think God enjoys sports? We know God’s ultimate will and yet we see things happen that don’t fit with it. Innocent children being killed is certainly an example. If He would not interfere to save lives of the innocent, why would he interfere to change the outcome of a game? If you pray not to be stung by a jellyfish and then you are, what does that mean? It seems to me that God comes into most of our lives when there is a lot of uncertainty. When chance seems to pay a big role, we call upon God to balance the scales in our favor. We also pray when all else fails. When your team is behind and all looks lost, then the prayers become more intense. I don’t think any of this fits well with good theology.

    On the other hand, God knows we are weak. He knows we put a lot of our psyches into sport teams. Maybe He just chuckles at the whole thing. Will He be more kindly to a quarterback with Bible verses tattooed all over his exposed arms, than the one who doesn’t? Let’s get serious.

    I like the joke that says that the Cowboy’s stadium has an open roof so that God can watch the game. Maybe a more pertinent question would be about the money, corruption, and serious long-term injury that surrounds the NFL. These modern day gladiators place their lives on the line for our enjoyment. Hmm.

  • James

    It’s one thing to ask God for a specific outcome but I hope he shows up at the game–and not as just a spectator. I think all creation and human experience is permeated by divine presence–this is certainly the ancient biblical world view.

  • http://cushmanschronicles.com Jeremy Cushman

    What?! A Yankees fan?! I’m praying for you…

  • Scott Caulley

    I suspect Jesus would have had no problem hanging out with “tax-collectors and tailgaters”, but he surely would have made the rounds to fans of both teams (you can never get too much good barbecue). I only wonder what kind of wine he would have chosen at the Wedding of Cana had the wedding boasted a tailgater’s menu.

    My favorite cartoon on the subject is the one where both football teams are imploring God for victory, but the scene in heaven shows God is not paying attention. He’s watching hockey.

  • RE Garrett

    The best indicator that God is actually a baseball fan:

    The San Francisco Giants won the World Series.
    The San Francisco 49ers lost the Super Bowl.

    God simply wasn’t paying enough attention to the game yesterday– what with pitchers and catchers reporting in a week or so….

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