Does God Really Care About Football?

In case you have not heard yet…there is a debate raging in the popular press and on the internet about whether God cares about American football contests.

This debate has reached a fever pitch, in part, because of the personality of Denver Broncos Quarterback and outspoken evangelical Christian, Tim Tebow.  Tebow’s football CV includes being a Heisman trophey winner, a two-time college national champion, and a first-round NFL draft prospect.

In fairness, Christian football QBs are not a new trend in the NFL.  For example, in the mid-90s Danny Wuerffel, also a University of Florida QB and Heisman Trophy Winner, was a fourth round draft pick of the New Orleans saints and played three seasons before moving on to the Green Bay Packers and then NFL-Europe.  Wuerffel was just as outspoken as Tebow, even starting his own evangelical ministry in New Orleans.  However unlike Tebow, Wuerffel never played for and won for such a high-profile, playoff team.    And Wuerffel never established the platform that Tebow has at the current moment.  Likewise, Roger Staubach (My dad’s favorite player) was a committed Catholic christian, was a Heisman trophy winner in college, and won in the NFL in the 1970s.  But Staubach preferred a more private religious persona than Tebow.

The juxtaposition of Tebow, Staubach, and Wuerffel indicates a relatively new category of Christian athlete:

Football + Private Faith + Winning is a known category.  See Roger Staubach.

Football + Public Faith + Losing is a known category.  See Danny Wuerffel.

However, Football + Public Faith + Winning . . . What are we to make of this.

This new trifecta has prompted a chorus of media outlets asking the dubious question, Does God Really Care About Football?

This question bothers me for a number of reasons.

  1. It assumes a limited god.  Many of the responses go as follows: Why would God care about football when there are more important issues out there such as poverty, injustice, war, and disease.  This is a fine response–if God is somehow limited to only being able to manage a few problems at a time.  Why would God care about football (when He is limited to only caring about the most important questions)? But as my friend Owen rightly listed in a recent Atlantic article, the Biblical God is not a limited God.  He is able to manage everything with total controal at all times.  Thus, the idea of football verses poverty is a false alterative.  God can mange both with excellence at the same time.  And he can do an infinite number of other things at the same time.  And BTW: This is the God that Tim Tebow brags about after every win and loss.
  2. It assumes that God was not involved in the invention of football.  For the record, I am not suggesting that God directly invented football.  But, if God is in charge of the universe–which the Bible says that He is–and if football is within the framework of the universe, then He is in someway involved in the creation and sustaining of football.  He allows it to function.  He does not make the NFL league go away (Like the USFL did).  He either directly orders or chooses to not limit the details of teams and players.  So, of course God cares about football.  Wins and losses and teams and players are all under the watchful care of God.  If he wanted it to end, He would end it.  Period.  That it is still going and bringing entertainment value to fans is all under the hand of God.
  3. It assumes that God has little to do with the people involved.  Whether the players expressly love God or whether the coaches are committed and consistent atheists or whether the service workers are somewhere in-between, God loves them all.  So yes, God wants the people involved with football to have salaries and to be excellent in their jobs and to advance in their careers.

So yes, God does care about football.  And yes, God does care about Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel, and Roger Staubach.  He cares that Tebow wins and loses and ties.  And he cares that Tom Brady wins and loses and ties.  And he cares about J.D. Walton (center for the Broncos).  And he cares about Kelly Woodward (Director of Community Development for the Broncos).  And he cares about Korbett Roberts (The Denver Bronco’s biggest fan in Waco).

Oh, and God cares about everything and everyone in His universe.  I think Tim Tebow’s favorite verse (John 3:16) says it best:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have ever lasting life.”

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About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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8 Responses to Does God Really Care About Football?

  1. Gudelia says:

    I cncuor! (Yes, totally!!) Although I fear that my opinion on your previous blog may have been one that caused you to speak again; but, I’m glad you did! We are not to judge anyone else’s HEART, but can I be so bold to say that I know you to be a faithful, Godly, loving, gentle, spiritually mature woman? That’s the Holy Spirit part of you, just as He exists in all of us who welcome Him into our lives. We, Christians, are filthy sinners who are totally unworthy of Christ. But He gave Himself for us anyway and turned us into shining lights. What a miracle! I know that OBL got his due, just as Christ promised he would. I’m grateful that we all have choices, and OBL made his. But, I can’t forget that one day in 2001, and the celebrating that al-Qaeda and other extremists did at the great tragedies on our shore. His defeat this week IS a victory, no question, and I pray for all of the precious faithful men and women of our military who put their lives in harms way every day. Praise God for them!! But, I do not want to lead any living member of OBL’s family or “gang” to believe that Christ did not die for them. He did. And He asked me to show them that.And my friend, the Holy Spirit may lead us in slightly different ways, but we are still following Him down the same, narrow path. Forgive me if I have offended you in any way. You have never, ever, ever offended me.

    • Randra says:

      something like this: Spend just a couple of hours with this kid and it will cagnhe your life. After hearing that, I was ready to start wearing a Tebow sucks t-shirt. Oh, and one other thing: I’m currently bored by the universal 5-wide set everyone is running in the current NFL. I’ve been waiting for something different. This is different. And the Broncos beat the Jets, which makes me inclined to like them.How successful will Tim Tebow be in the long run? I have no idea. But I do like watching the self-styled experts swallow their tongues every week. That in of itself is enough to make me hope for more.

  2. Kevin Rawlings says:

    Ok, I see where you’re coming from. The argument I posed still sort of assumed limited focus, too. I also didn’t consider how sports are a healthy, enjoyable, harmless gift from God, and it’s fun to wish the best for our teams. As long as there’s no ill-will toward the opponent, and the other criteria you mentioned is hit, than it seems a prayer of victory can be in good spirit. I like the concept you brought up about the false perception of limited focus of God’s reach, I never thought of it that way before.

    • Pushpa says:

      More inmprtaot, even, than our freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution (Bill of Rights) is our freedom to profess our faith in Jesus Christ. This is a God-given right and also appropriately protected by the aforementioned amendment. God bless Tim Tebow for doing so in a way that he sees fit according to His God-given faith and the God-given faith of the Christian. He does not force anything on anyone, but speaks the truth in love. Let us all do likewise.

      • Lara says:

        I still can’t carve out the kind of time I want to go forward with this iecvorsatnon, but I did want to say that I think Adam is wrong a) to contrast Buddhist systems with Christian systems, because there are plethoras of both; b) to claim that language is the basic fabric and texture of lived human consciousness, something no Buddhist would agree with, I think, and which I believe there is no evidence to support in any case; and c) to portray Derrida’s project as somehow Buddhist in character, when in fact it ultimately reinforces the fixations that Buddhist practice (as I understand it) seeks to free us from.I should add that David Loy, in his 1988 book Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, compares Derrida’s ideas with those of the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. He notes that Derrida understands that all philosophy, including his, can only reinscribe,’ but for him the sole solution is to disseminate wildly, in the hope of avoiding any fixzation into a system that will subvert his insight. […] In contrast, we have the nondualist example of a Zen master [Nagarjuna], who plays with language—moving in and out of it freely—because he is not caught in it. His laconic expressions emerge from / are one with an unrepresentable ground of serenity, and although they cannot directly point to this ground, there are ways to suggest it for someone else. In comparison with this freedom, to rejoice in being caught in a language that has lost its ability to represent any truth brings to mind Bernard Shaw’s comment on the pleasures of an endless holiday: a good working definition of hell. From my point of view, many post-avant writers follow Derrida into this hell. I would rather not.All that said, I’d have to disagree with your arguments as well, and not only because I’m not a Christian. First, you’ve been misled by Adam (Fieled, I mean) into defending a system that is neither coherent nor much to the point. As I said, there are many Christian systems, and the one whose values you put forward is not one the Catholic Czeslaw Milosz, for example, would have subscribed to, nor would the Christian mystics Jacob Boehme or Emmanuel Swedenborg. My point is not to devalue your personal Christianity, but to suggest that it’s not the real issue between you and Adam. The real issue, I think, is the Aristotelian idea of language as essentially representational (the view embraced early on by Aquinas and elaborated quite beautifully by the modern Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain) vs. Wittgenstein’s (and Derrida’s) idea of language as a self-reinforcing system of signs that represent other signs.One of the things I like about Owen Barfield is that he critiques both systems from a third point of view, one that is neither Aristotelian nor Wittgensteinian. While I don’t subscribe to even a majority of Barfield’s views on other subjects, as a poet I have to say that his views on the nature, development, and purpose of language ring true.Don’t know if any of this makes sense, but there it is .

  3. Kevin Rawlings says:

    I agree with all of your assertions in your blog, but I disagree with one thing. I still see a problem with praying a prayer of victory over your fellow man (which Tebow has admitted doing). Is that kind of prayer in keeping with humility and selflessness? Or does it come from a place of self-conceit and ambition? I agree that God loves and cares for us infinitely, and that his omnipresence and omnitemporality keep him from having limited focus, but should *our* hearts be so focused on this arbitrary game? I struggle with this myself with basketball, but I stopped praying for victory a long time ago for this very reason. People who haven’t had a chance to know God on a personal level see people that pray for personal gain and think that Christianity is a “how to get ahead” religion. I think that God doesn’t want us to conquer, or even be happy, but to simply know him. What do prayers like that make Christians look like to agnostics and atheists?

    • Doug Hankins says:

      Kevin,

      You raise a great point, albeit an aspect of this debate that is not central to this post. So to the question: “Should Christians pray to God for victory in sports contests?”

      My thoughts on this: I think it’s fine for Christians to pray for victory, meaning I am not opposed to it. I think this is appropriate under the following conditions:

      1) That Christians understand that God is not obligated to provide victory in the contest.
      2) That victory is never understood as a validation of righteousness.
      3) That God may choose to allow a team of non-Christians to win.
      4) That God may choose to allow a team made up of Christians and non-Christians to win.
      5) That the Christian would not pray for the other team to play poorly.
      6) That the prayer for victory is not equated with personal gain. The gain of the victory has to be towards the end of God’s glory.
      7) That a victory is viewed, not as a peak, but as a platform. The platform provides the opportunity for something greater (ie: The Glory of God).

      So. Under these conditions a Christian may pray for victory. This prayer is essentially a request to play with excellence and that the excellence would result in victory. But the Christian must not be under the guise that a prayer for victory is a formula for victory. The dominant theme for the Christian athlete must be the same as the dominant theme for the Christian life–God is faithful in the good and bad times, in the victories and the defeats. So, God’s faithfulness must be the trajectory and telos of the Christian prayer for victory.

      For me, victory is something different than conquering. Victory is limited to a finite contest. Conquering is a mindset of personal power and gain. As long as the Christian remains humble and God-centered, a prayer for victory can be God-honoring (again, provided that the Christian understand the conditions). A prayer for victory where conquest is the immediate referent is problematic because it tends towards idolatry and selfishness.

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