And now for a couple of disclaimers:
- It's always easier to imagine God at work in the context of our own life stories. We see the world through our own eyes, not those of others. When we attempt to discern God ways, we understandably focus on our own experiences and interpret the divine through our own perceptions. We can hardly blame Jason Terry and the Mavericks for assuming that God cares as much about their success (or failure) as the rest of us do.
- One should give credit where credit is due to public figures, like Terry, who boldly proclaim their faith in God. One can imagine that the pressures and temptations unique to the fame and wealth of professional sports are mind-boggling. I cannot claim to be above those pressures. So we rightly admire those who unashamedly, consistently, and authentically live out their faith in a very public and high-pressured environment. And yet, in the light of all-too-common failures, such public proclamations also come with the risk of contributing to perceptions of hypocrisy among outspoken Christians.
- Terry may not have been explicitly invoking special providence so much as asserting that faith in God makes available an internal fortitude that can be utilized toward success, when accompanied by hard work and determination. It can be argued that Philippians 4:3 ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me") applies to every aspect of one's life, extending by implication to athletic success. In a 2002 CBN interview, Kurt Warner offered a theologically nuanced perspective along these lines:
When you stand up and say, "Thank You, Jesus," they think you are saying, "Thank You for being here. Thank You for moving my arm forward and making the ball go into that guy's hands so that we could score a touchdown and win the game." But, in essence, it is a matter of thanking Him for the opportunity, thanking Him for being there in my life, for being the stronghold, for being the focus and the strength to accomplish all things, to accomplish anything, and to be where I am at, to have gone through everything I have gone through. It is a constant thing in my life. It is not just for something specific He did on the football field to help us win; it is for everything that He has done in my life up to that point and for everything He will continue to do in my life from here until eternity.
This is well said. But even with these nuances, one must fight the tendency to view faith as a secret weapon that assures competitive victory, whether in sports, in law, sales, or science. Faith in Christ is not the power of positive thinking for the advancement of one's personal or professional cause. Rather, as Kierkegaard once noted, faith is a "restless thing" that provokes action on behalf of injustice. Scripture teaches faith without works is dead, or useless (Jam. 2:20). But sports championships aren't the works of faith.
In the end, if Terry's vocal faith inspires people to think deeply about their standing with God, to exercise a little more faith, and to pray a little harder, perhaps the pros outweigh the cons. But it's important to remember that when it comes to basketball, God doesn't take sides. When it comes to justice, righteousness, and the Kingdom of God, he does.