Miracles, divine intervention and football have a relationship that goes back a long way.
From Roger Staubach’s original Hail Mary to Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception to the Music City Miracle and now the yet-to-be-nicknamed Tebow to Thomas TD (the Denver Deliverance?), folks occasionally give the credit for big plays at critical moments to the intervention of that big football fan in the sky, the “G”-man (and I don’t mean the New York Giants.)
Now, I don’t think anyone actually believes that the 80 yard touchdown the other day was a legitimate “miracle” where the impossible happened. It was just a normal catch and run with blown defensive coverage and a missed tackle, after all.
However, many Christians do believe that God blessed Tebow and either allowed or helped the Broncos to win – i.e., they think the win is evidence of divine intervention or “God’s will”. At the same time, there are a lot of other Christians that think that is rubbish, that God doesn’t play favorites when it comes to sporting events.
Tebow is the perfect “lightning rod” for sparking this type of discussion. His passing statistics (less than 50% completion rate, for example) are typical of a QB with a losing record. But, he keeps winning games and giving the thanks to God, so the arguments rage on.
I’m all too familiar with the debate regarding whether or not God intervenes in the outcome of sporting events, by the way. The Christian high school where my wife teaches and kids attend has won four state championships (2 basketball, 1 track, 1 baseball) in our small school bracket in its first five years of existence, and I’ve had more than my share of online forum debates over who does and doesn’t receive God’s “blessings”.
So, the question today is an age-old one: does God meddle in the everyday affairs of men or not?
The way that Christians view this question has been evolving recently, particularly as what used to be considered the theological “norm” has changed. The issue is similar to the old predestination versus free will argument: does God control the minutia of everyday affairs, or are the choices and actions of people completely independent?
There was an interesting (though unrelated to football) discussion last week over at Rachel Held Evans blog where “process theology” was introduced and discussed. “Open Theology” and “Process Theology” are viewpoints where people believe that God is aware of all things but does not necessarily control all things. In other words, God is omniscient and omnipresent but not controlling, and the “Process Theology” guys that guest posted for Rachel even suggest that God is not omnipotent. (Note: I do not agree with this, though I see where they’re coming from.)
Applying this to football, while a Reformed Theologian (aka Calvinist) who believes in predestination might say that Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos were destined to win the game (i.e., that God ordained it to happen), a Process Theologian would probably say that although God is omniscient and knew the Denver Broncos would win, God did not make it happen. (Actually, the guys that posted that blog post would probably say God didn’t give a rip who won the football game.)
So where am I on that scale? Somewhere in the middle? I do believe that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, so I do believe that God knew Denver would win, but I don’t think that he willed it to happen.
There are a few factors I look at when I try to determine if something that happened is due to “God’s will” or not. The first question is does this have an impact on God’s long-term plan for his people?
For example, in the battle between David and Goliath, it was important to God’s long-term plan for David to win, so it makes sense that God ensured the victory.
For things that aren’t obviously part of God’s long-term plan, the question revolves around individual circumstances: what person or what circumstance is affected by the outcome of this event?
Is it important to God’s ultimate purpose that Denver won Sunday? Doubt it. Maybe it was important to certain individuals that got into discussions about God that impacted them, but the football game itself? Nah, doesn’t matter who won.
However, the Bible tells us in a number of places that God will use circumstances for his purposes, and that “all that happens to us is working for good…” like it says in Romans 8:28. In other words, even if God didn’t make the Broncos win, he can and will use the discussion that’s going on for his glory and benefit.
So, when is something a “Miracle” vs. “God’s Will” vs. “stuff happens”? I’d say it depends on the circumstances, and we have no way to verify which is which, though we can guess.
Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? I’m going with miracle.
Moses parting the Red Sea so the Israelites can cross to safety? Yup. Definitely a miracle.
How about David’s killing of Goliath?
Well, although it was part of God’s will to ensure God’s long-term plan (David to be king, genealogy of Jesus, etc.), I don’t believe it was a miracle when David killed Goliath with that stone. There wasn’t anything supernatural involved: David was using the slingshot skills he learned in shepherding, and he trusted in God and knew he could defeat Goliath because God was with him.
If God was with him, doesn’t that make it a miracle? God ‘blessed’ David and enabled him to do his best, but it was still David that threw the rock. (Sort of like Luke Skywalker, you know? The force was with him, but it was still Luke that pulled the trigger to blow up the death star. )
Was Tim Tebow’s 80 yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime a “miracle”? Nah…. It was a big play for sure, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t happen without supernatural influence.
Was it “God’s Will” for Tebow and the Broncos to win the game or did it just happen? Only God knows… literally. What we tend to believe as individuals is more reflective of where we sit on the “Predestination vs. Process Theology” scale than it is a reflection of the underlying reality. We just don’t exactly know what that reality is.
And by the way, those of you that think Tebow is a horse’s arse for “Tebowing” should consider the David v. Goliath story. After killing him with the slingshot, David carried Goliath’s head around like a trophy for a few days.
Can you imagine if David v. Goliath got press coverage like the Super Bowl? “David! You just won the battle with Goliath! What are you going to do now?” “I’m going to Disneyland! And I’m dropping this ‘trophy’ off on the Pirates ride! Bwahahaha!”
Still think it’s arrogant for Tebow to bow his head in prayer?
This weekend, Tebow and the Broncos travel to New England to play the Patriots, and they are definitely the underdogs again. Do I think they can win? Probably not….
But hey, if Tebow can pull out another victory, that would definitely be a miracle!
Anybody out there besides me old enough to remember all three of those old football ‘miracles’ when they happened live? Do you have any favorite sports related “miracle” stories?