“God, Prayer and the NFL” Dr. John E. Harnish If it’s Ground Hog Day, it must be the Super Bowl. Some years the game is about as exciting as a ground hog leaving his hole and the commercials are of more interest than what happens on the field. This year it looks to be a pretty good match-up, but since I am writing prior to the game itself, who knows? Maybe it was a bust…or just “deflated”. And of course, it all depends on which team you cheer for. Most of my friends around here are Cheezeheads, but my kids are die-hard Seahawk fans. So, who did I cheer for last week? No surprise-my grandkids come first. Go Hawks! Whoever wins (or won) the Super Bowl, it’s worth a moment’s consideration about where God is in all this. What about the prayers before and after the game? How do we feel about the touchdown celebration with one finger pointed to the sky, or the winners’ thanksgiving to Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior? And what does it say about the kind of God we believe in?
First of all, though on the one hand I really do believe God cares about all the details of our human lives, I honestly doubt God has a favorite on the football field. Blogger John Scriven asks the following probing questions:
What kind of a God would intervene to help a football team win while allowing senseless violence against school children? Whose God delivers the Hail Mary pass while neglecting to protect innocents from natural disasters? What can we say about the God who says “It is Good” to our team’s game winning field goal, but won’t offer the same help to a young couple experiencing another miscarriage? And how far down the slope does one need to slip to accept that the God who stands with yourfavorite football team always stands on with the United States regardless of what we might do? I believe in a God who sees a sparrow fall and counts the hairs on our head, but I also believe in a God who cares more about those who suffer from empty bowls than who wins the Super Bowl. And I believe in a God whose love and care extends to the losers as well as the winners, those who walk away empty handed as well as those who walk away with a gold ring. Second, though I respect the desire of players to witness to their love for Christ by giving Jesus credit for the win, what do they do if they don’t win? I guess I’ve never heard football players giving thanks to Christ when they lost. Though my tendency is always to give God the glory for the blessings I enjoy, it is always with a sense of humility. Maybe our witness is better served with our quiet compassion for the world than it is in the fervor of the football field. Third, what about prayer? I mean, if God can help a team win the Super Bowl, why can’t he cure my friend’s cancer which threatens to take him in the prime of his life? And where does that leave me when my prayers, which often have more serious life/death implications than a mere football game, seem to go unanswered? I’m not afraid to share with God my deepest desires and even some of the seemingly trivial aspects of my life but always with a sense believing that somehow, “God works in all things for good with those who love him” and that whether we win or lose, God is still with us. Prayer is not some magic trick that will help me get what I want. Rather it is a discipline that tries to get me in line with what God might want. So I pray with honesty and confession, offering up the details of my life and the requests of my heart, but more importantly I pray to get in touch with the needs of others and the will of God for this world. But then, if God could tilt the table just a bit in favor of the Seahawks…just kidding.
Jack Harnish, Author