This is a revised and updated version of a post I put up before last year’s Super Bowl. It seems the “problem” of God and football is a theological conundrum as intriguing to many people as the problem of God and evil.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on his weekly radio show (1/20/15), offered his theological perspective on the Packers NFC championship defeat by the Seattle Seahawks: “I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”
About a week later, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson disagreed while speaking to reporters during the Super Bowl media day: “I think God cares about football. I think God cares about everything he created.”
In an informative column just before last year’s Super Bowl (1/31/14), a Wall Street Journal writer also pondered these deep theological questions: Should fans pray for victory for their favorite sports teams? and, Does God care about the outcome of the Super Bowl (or any sporting event)? The answer to the first question was Yes, but only for peace of mind, since such prayers would never actually affect the outcome of a game. The answer to the second, in the words of a Seattle pastor, was No: God “doesn’t give a ‘holy rip’ who wins [a sporting event], even the Super Bowl.” I would only add to this specific theological conundrum these thoughts: Certainly I would agree that God would not take a partisan fan perspective on the outcome of the Super Bowl. But might there be other considerations? For example, consider the well-known aspect of chaos theory called the “butter-fly effect” or “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. This principle says that any future outcome of any connected chain of causes and effects can be drastically altered by very small changes in conditions or events at the beginning of the chain. So what if the Patriots were to win the Super Bowl, and when this happened a completely unpredictable set of subsequent events set in motion by that win eventually led (maybe even years later) to the construction in some desperately poor region of the world of an orphanage or maybe a new system for delivering clean, purified water to a region wracked by water-borne diseases. And what if a Seahawks win would ever so slightly alter that chain of events so that those good things never happened. Perhaps in that case, God might care about the outcome. Perhaps. Then again, as the WSJ writer pointed out, divine intervention for one team might violate NFL rules.
But, “Does God like football?” is a different question. Does he derive enjoyment from watching, or being omnisciently aware of, 22 physically above-average males pushing and shoving and throwing and running about with a football until 60 minutes of playing time runs out and one team of these young men has amassed a larger quantity of points then the other? Well, I cannot say that he doesn’t, and why wouldn’t he? Why would the apostle Paul, one of God’s spokespersons, use athletic metaphors for Christian discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 2:2, 5:7; 2 Timothy 2:5), if God did not approve of at least the idea of athletic competition? The story of the famous Scottish runner and missionary, Eric Liddell, is also instructive. In the movie which tells his story, Chariots of Fire, Liddell has an argument with his sister who is fretting over his passion for running and competing in the upcoming Paris Olympics of 1924. She is worried that he is neglecting his call to missions in China. Liddell replies, “God made me for China. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” It is likely that Liddell actually did say something like this. Would not the God who made the gazelle and the cheetah rejoice to see one made in his image run like the wind? And might not God have enjoyed watching the dramatic comeback of the Seahawks against the Packers in this years NFC championship? I know I enjoyed it and I was rooting for the Packers.
Sometimes we do regard too lightly God’s holiness and transcendence. God is not our good buddy. But often we seem to stray too far in the other direction and regard him more as an abstract and unapproachable container of divine attributes than an actual Person who enjoys his own life. God delights in his creation. I think he enjoys the unfolding of his cosmos—the whirl and fire of stars and galaxies and comets and planets. The intricacy and variety of biological life no doubt give him pleasure. He is happy when his children do right, and when they sing and dance. And I think he likes football.