First: I am a sports fan. In fact, I’d place myself somewhere on the scale between “devoted” and “avid.” I am from the Northwest, so a lot of my regional teams have had a tradition of losing for most of my short lifetime. (Seahawks football; Mariners baseball; Washington State University everything, anyone?) One cannot be a fair-weather fan in the Northwest, or else one must choose to support another team somewhere else in the 48 contiguous, or be forced out of fanhood forever.
I also grew up playing lots of sports and was an average athlete in my day. My whole family especially rallied around my youngest brother, who was above average in his athleticism. He is now 27 years old and flourishing as the varsity coach of a men’s high school basketball team — and my parents still travel to all of his games.
Second: The Seahawks came back to win a really big game today. And I jumped up and down and “woo-hoo”ed with the best of them. I didn’t cry. But my dad did. (He always cries at really good sports stories.)
So, I am definitely a sports fan. And one of my teams just won a really big game. Got it?
You must know these two things because the kind of thing that I need to say is usually the kind of thing that some geek says, prefacing it with, “I’m not really a football fan, but seriously, guys, what’s the big deal? Tone it down over there. You’re cheering too loudly. It’s only the third inning.”
But, seriously, guys: When it comes to sports wins and superstitious voodoo and Christian karma and begging God to make your team win, I say we leave God out of it!
I hear lots of people insisting subconsciously that their prayers during the last three minutes of the game were what made the Seahawks win. I cringe inside when I hear people infer that the Seahawks won because Russell Wilson is a Jesus-follower.
Are there really no Jesus-followers on the entire Packers team? Nor any in all of Green Bay who were, in fact, praying the exact same fervent prayers at the exact same time, “Jesus, please let our quarterback make this play!”
To say such shenanigans is to turn God into a heavenly vending machine. Put in a prayer, press D-4, and out comes a completed touchdown pass in overtime.
To say such shenanigans is to deny the age-old truth about life on planet earth. Your (or anyone else’s on your chosen sports team) rightness with God is not evidenced by a winning season. Nor is one’s alienation from God proven by a loss in the playoffs.
Jesus told us this before football was even invented: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
My sports-related translation: We all win sometimes; we all lose sometimes. All of us have evil parts and good parts. Even if Jesus’ blood has given you right-with-God status, there are still unsurrendered parts of your heart that are not yet entirely right with God. Please stop taking moral or spiritual credit on behalf of your or your favorite sports team’s Christian karma when you win. And, please stop blaming another person’s loss on your perception of their immorality or irreligion.
I know that God let Kearse catch that touchdown pass on Saturday, I’m just not sure that God caused Kearse to catch that touchdown pass. And I know that God did not cause Kearse to catch that pass in order to show his blanket pleasure with all things Seattle.
Most importantly, please hear this: I do not want to banish God from sports.
I love that a few of the players gather at the end of the game to pray together; it shows that the unity Jesus brings is even deeper and stronger than the unity of NFL jerseys and franchises.
I love that Russell Wilson gives God the credit whenever any news reporter shoves a microphone in his face.
I love that many of the hundreds of Jesus-following NFL players strive for excellence in their jobs as a way of making God proud and making the world a more beautiful place; all Jesus-followers should live and work out of this same passion.
If you want to pray for a completed touchdown pass, that is totally fine with me. Just please don’t let it be the only time God has heard from you all week.
If you feel compelled to pray for Russell Wilson, please do. Just don’t forget to pray also for his coaches and managers and owners and teammates and rival quarterbacks who have no idea how much God loves them and wants to know them.
If you are praying that Richard Sherman’s elbow will be healed before Sunday, February 1, I’ll say, “Amen” right alongside you. Just please, let’s pray with even greater zeal for God to heal the hearts of all the NFL players who go home after each game, win or lose, carrying the overwhelming, chest-crushing pressure to prove themselves worthy by their stellar football performance again and again, week after week, season after season.
If you are asking God for a Seahawks Super Bowl win, I’m not praying against you. Just please ask God more fervently and more persistently to rescue the men and women oppressed by the sex trade who will be shipped in for the Super Bowl that same week.
If you get excited and cry when Kearse catches the winning pass, I love it. Just please get that excited and cry when your own kid tells you about something that is a big deal to them, or when you see them make a good choice in the face of adversity. They need to know that you care about them (who you know) and their life (which you’re living with them) far more than you care about the Seahawks (who you, honestly, don’t know and who aren’t your life).
Therefore, when it comes to the people in sports, the people who love sports, the people involved in the sports industry (whether by choice or by force), and the loved people you watch sports with, I say we must keep God in.