Snow falls as a man passes signage for the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game at U.S. Bank Stadium, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Philadelphia Eagles are scheduled to face the New England Patriots Sunday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Super Bowl LII: God will be watching

Green Bay Packers' Reggie White (92) leads a prayer service after the Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI on Jan. 26, 1997, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)


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(RNS) — Twenty years ago this month I had a public theological disagreement with Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.

In addition to his significant role as defensive end for the Packers, who were soon to play in the Super Bowl, White was a Pentecostal preacher. Both of us — along with several other players and theologians — were interviewed for the Sports Illustrated cover story, “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?”

Several of my theologian friends took the negative position on this. One of them even doubted that God cared about the game at all, and a couple of others were wary of any suggestion that God had anything to do with deciding who wins.

Reggie White was a strong supporter of the idea of an active divine role in determining the outcome. What basis do the scholars have for thinking that God does not take sides? he asked. After all, he observed, "God intervened in David's fight with Goliath.” And then there was the clear case of divine intervention “in Jesus's victory over death." And, the reporter who interviewed me told me, Reggie had even observed to him that God “doesn’t think much of losers.”

Reggie White while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

While I was not ready to endorse the idea that God actively determines who the winner will be, I did not accept the view of those of my theological colleagues who insisted that God stays rather aloof from what goes on in football games. I said — and I still see it this way — that God cares much about how the game is actually played. And it is not simply about how the players treat each other as competitors. It’s also about the physical prowess that is on display in a well-played game.

My friend and colleague Lewis Smedes once mused about the range of things God enjoys: a well-written poem, a Bach concerto, a courageous act of justice. I would add to the list: and an exciting football game. When a quarterback throws a long pass and a player down the field makes a spectacular catch, I imagine the Lord saying to himself: “Nicely done! This is one of the reasons why I created the human race!”

The Packers lost to the Broncos in that 1998 Super Bowl. John Elway, the Denver quarterback, completed some excellent passes in the game. I think God enjoyed watching those plays. And I don’t think he was disappointed with Reggie White for being on the losing team.

What all of this reinforces for me is the need to acknowledge the Creator’s interest in how the game gets played while not being a special fan of one of them. But we human creatures are not bound to that kind of neutrality.

Once, when I was on the editorial board of a small magazine of religious commentary, someone submitted for our consideration a piece criticizing all aspects of the Super Bowl from a theological perspective. It was, the writer argued, an “idolatrous” event, reinforcing sexism, consumerism, superpatriotism and the celebration of violence. Our board debated at length whether to run the piece. A few of us found it a bit overwrought, but in the end we did decide to publish it.

After our meeting I walked to the parking lot with one of my fellow editors. “Are you OK with the decision to publish that article?” I asked. “Yeah,” he responded. “I guess the writer made a few good points that we ought to take seriously.” Then he added this: “But if Dallas plays in the Super Bowl this year I sure as heck hope they get beat!”

I think of his comment every year at Super Bowl time. Because I try to keep a proper theological perspective on the event, I am not wondering which team God favors more than the other. But since I am not God I do have an interest in the outcome. And even though my own favorite team is not playing this year, I have some strong feelings about one of the teams that will be playing: I sure as heck hope they get beat. But if their quarterback happens to throw a few completed passes, I will try to remind myself about what God enjoys.

Comments

  1. God only cares about who might be kneeling during the national Anthem !!

  2. “Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?” No he does not since said entity does not exist.

  3. Not sure that God would be interested in how the game is played. If I was God, I would only watch if the game eliminated tackling given the rate of CTE in professional football players.

  4. I think one of the things God looks for in the Super Bowl is for those instances where love trumps pride in how players treat each other and in how fans treat each other during the game. We should note that pride is not spoken well of in the Scriptures.

  5. This is truly laughable. And, frankly, an insult to the skill of the players. But if they are okay with diminishing their own efforts who am I stop them?
    If you need anymore proof that the abrahamic deity is petty look no further than this article.

  6. God sets the spread, over/under, and prop bets. No, wait, that’s the Las Vegas oddsmakers.

  7. If your god cares about and influences who wins a football game, he seriously needs to get his priorities straightened out.

  8. “Reggie White was a strong supporter of the idea of an active divine role in determining the outcome. ………………… After all, he observed, “God intervened in David’s fight with Goliath.” And then there was the clear case of divine intervention “in Jesus’s victory over death.”

    What about his intervention in something that actually happened – say 9/11, 7/7, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Dunblane, etc. etc. etc. – ooops – guess he was too busy watching sport on the box!

  9. Whichever side prays harder will win. You know, just like presidential elections.

  10. I don’t think God would endorse a sport that causes CTE in a lot of players and the impact on their families.

  11. “The Super Bowl” is secular liturgy and it is nothing more than a liturgy in the service of the Golden Calf! Its’ priests are the promoters and its ministers the players and in final analysis it is a bunch of millionaires running up and down a field to make even more millions in a nation that worships profit and devalues everything that Jesus taught despite all the hype and spin of “evangelicals”/profiteers/Republicans!

  12. I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8
    Answer: Hardly. The Road is Narrow and only a Few will find it.

  13. This morning I heard a report on the radio about a high school football player who never played after high schoo. He had a very damaged brain. He eventually killed himself. His brain was autopised and he had CTE. I’m not sure we should be encouraging anyone to play football. We want to enjoy the game, but we don’t want to deal with the consequences. I won’t watch and I live in Philly.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2018/02/02/zac-easter-cte-concussion-football

  14. Hey, brother Richard Mouw, say hey to brother Reggie White for me. And pass on my thanks to him for the Sunday Adult Class lesson learned today. Tell him he’s right: “God ‘doesn’t think much of losers.'” Because, see, or at least now I see, thanks to you both, that our apostle Paul, a sports fanatic like us, as well as that mystery “Hebrews” writer, must’ve envisioned Super Bowl LII when they wrote the following sport commentaries:

    1 Corinthians 9:24-25 – “Those who run in a race [stadio = stadium, racecourse] all run, but only one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may win. … They … do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

    Hebrews 12:1-2 – “Let us … lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race [agona = contest, struggle] that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

  15. Who will he choose to win? And on what basis? Actually, I am sure he has better things to do, just like I have.

  16. The creator of the entire infinite universe is interested in what people on a tiny planet do with their genitalia, and one country’s obsession with getting concussions by kicking around a ball that isn’t a ball.

  17. Are they only the quarterbacks, or do linemen also find it?

  18. God, in his infinite wisdom, made an infinite number of electrons.

  19. Football is every bit as bad as boxing is. I agree with you.

  20. All my church money’s on New England Patriots tonight! Why? Well, duh. Because of what their Matthew Slater says below about his Evangelicalism, of course – duh – which tells me God & Jesus are on his side, as opposed to Philadelphia Eagles, because of what their Nick Foles says about his.

    Check it out and place your bets, gents & ladies:

    (1) New England Patriots Matthew Slater: “A lot of brothers over there [in NFL] that … represent the Gospel in a tremendous fashion. … I’ve been fortunate to have some good people of strong faith in my circle … I’ve been given the platform of football to … connect with people, and show them the love of Christ.”

    (2) Philadelphia Eagles Nick Foles: “I’m a believer in Jesus Christ … I wouldn’t be able to do this game without Him because I don’t have the strength to go out and do this. This is supernatural … It’s not about prospering at all. … There’s … so much temptation in this world, … social media and the internet that you want to talk to [people] … and share all the weaknesses I have because I’ve fallen many times … I’ve been blessed with an amazing platform”.

    (Sources: Shawn Brown, “‘My Faith in the Lord Means Everything’: How These Eagles and Patriots Are Using Super Bowl LII to Glorify God”, CBN News, February 1, 2018; and Trent Toone, “NFL players using Super Bowl spotlight as a platform to share their Christian faith”, Deseret News, February 3, 2018.)

  21. Do you think Jesus was talking to millionaire football players when he said, “give away all that you have and follow that oblong object they mistakenlY call a ball?”

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