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Is God a football fan?

After his Seattle Seahawks made their remarkable comeback against the Green Bay Packers two Sundays ago, sideline reporter Erin Andrews put a microphone in front of quarterback Russell Wilson. Down 19-7 with just 4 minutes left in the game, the Seahawks finished the game with a ridiculous 2-point conversion, the recovery of an onside kick, and completed a beautiful pass in overtime to win. Overcome with emotion and fighting tears, Wilson appeared to attribute his team’s unlikely victory to God.

Russell Wilson, quarterback
Russell Wilson is the dynamic quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. Photo by Larry Maurer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

“God is too good all the time, man. Every time,” he said.

A few minutes later, he was again asked about the comeback, specifically how badly he had played up until those final 4 minutes. “That’s God setting it up,” Wilson replied, “to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special.”

I really like Russell Wilson. I’ve heard several interviewers say that the public persona is not put on. He is the real deal. I’m reasonably sure that sometime during the never-ending pre-game we will see a profile piece on him showing him visiting kids in hospitals and doing good all over Seattle. Wow, I respect that. And I will be rooting hard for his team to vanquish the evil empire this afternoon.

But I have some serious questions about his post-conference championship game theology.

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback
Aaron Rodgers is said to be a man of deep Christian faith. Photo by Mike Morbeck, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The quarterback on the losing end of Willson’s comeback, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, is by all accounts a man of a deep Christian faith as well. He isn’t near as vocal about it though. He is reported to have said he is a fan of St. Francis of Assisi and his quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

When a fan on a call-in radio show asked him about Wilson’s attribution of the game’s outcome to God, Rodgers replied, “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.” That’ll preach.

Did God pick Wilson over Rodgers to represent Him in the Super Bowl? I find that hard to believe, but apparently a significant portion of our country would say yes.

The week following Seattle’s win over Green Bay, the Huffington Post reported that a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Service revealed that approximately 1 in 4 Americans (26%) believe “God plays a role in determining which team will win a sporting event.” Further they found that more than half of us (53%) believe “God rewards faithful athletes with good health and success.” Remove those who are “religiously unaffiliated” and the number jumps to reveal that 2 out of 3 Christians (68%) believe God rewards faithful athletes.

Timeout! The previous play is under review.

An NFL challenge flag.
Packer Head Coach Mike McCarthy tosses the red flag, signaling that he is challenging the ruling on the field. Photo by Elvis Kennedy, courtesy Flickr.

So 2/3 of the people in church before the big game actually believe God selected Russell Wilson over Aaron Rodgers?

It never ceases to amaze me how despite all evidence to the contrary, the so-called “prosperity gospel” is so pervasive in the church in the United States. We have bought into the lie that the good guys win, the faithful prosper, that “God helps those who help themselves.”

I don’t think God’s version of winning is the same as ours. I don’t believe the best churches are the biggest ones with the most money and coolest buildings (I’m working on a post about this). I don’t think Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet have been blessed by God with riches beyond belief because of their incredible faithfulness (that’s not a slam on them). And I don’t believe the Seahawks and Patriots are in the Super Bowl because God likes them best.

I agree that this is how the world ought to work. Things would be much simpler if they did. But it doesn’t. See Job. That book of the Hebrew Bible was intended to answer this very question theologians have been struggling with forever. Why don’t the faithful win? The problem is so pervasive we have given it a name, theodicy.

When we go and look at the replay carefully, we find Jesus talking about different kinds of winning. “Blessed,” he said, “are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek…” and others we wouldn’t point to as the winners (Matthew 5:1-12). In another place he talks about the winners in life as those who feed the “hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit people in prison” (Matthew 25:31-46), which Russell Wilson seems to do very well.

After further review, the ruling on the field is overturned.

The faithful don’t always win the game. But it is a much more satisfying way to play.

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