Miracles, Divine Intervention and Tim Tebow

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!

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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?

This entry was posted in Odds & Ends, Sports stuff, Theological stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Miracles, Divine Intervention and Tim Tebow

    • They did a poll to pick a name? That’s too funny!

      The Hail Mary and Immaculate Reception both just sort of morphed from the discussion. Hail Mary is now a standard part of football vernacular…. “The Mile High Goodbye” – Nice!

  1. *OUTSTANDING*!!! *OUTSTANDING*!!! *OUTSTANDING*!!! This is written with clarity, your examples are excellent, and you have brought to light some very in depth theology with accuracy and intention. I *LOVE* this! I, by the way, am pulling for that “miracle” on Saturday. ;)

    • Thanks, Shanda. It’s probably an exciting time for you guys to be in Denver, and you’re probably hearing the Tebow chatter even more than I am!

      I’m pulling for them too primarily because I’m tired of the Patriots. (Respect ‘em, but tired of them.)

      So, the football analyst in me says that for Denver to win, they need to win the turnover battle by 3 or 4 and convert those turnovers to points. New England only beat Denver so bad the first time because Denver turned it over 3 or 4 times in row, and once New England had a big lead, the Broncos seemed to roll over and die.

      I just hope it’s an entertaining game…..

  2. Hate when I came back a few hours after posting and find a handful of typos. Oops!

    Certainly didn’t mean to say that David thought he could beat Goliath because “God was him.” (Dork! God was WITH him…..)

  3. God may not be particularly interested in football (Lord knows, I’m not, lol) but He DOES give us the desires of our heart, and He DOES bless those who seek him with all their hearts. Is He interested in who wins a football game? Probably not. Will He grant favor to a player (or anyone else) who seeks first the kingdom and righteousness…absolutely.

    • I’ve gotten into this discussion so many times on the high school sports blogs…. The argument typically starts with a statement like you just said — God will grant favor to a player or team that honors him, or that God “blessed us” with a win. Then everyone jumps all over their case and points out that there are Christian kids playing for the public school too, and they typically accuse the Christians of being arrogant because they believe God is on their side. I typically try to play peacemaker and point out that a) God loves and blesses everyone on both sides and b) because Christians believe that blessings (including those gained through our actions/talents) come from God, saying “God blessed us” is really a sign of humility. (It’s definitely more humble than saying “we kicked their tails because we’re the better team”, you know?)

      So although I believe that God may grant favor to a player or team that honors him, I am also careful in how I express that, especially if I’m trying to “represent” and not come off as arrogant to those I’m trying to build relationship with through the blogging/commentary.

  4. Nice job Dan.

    The beautiful thing about Tebow, is he get’s this. In excerpts I’ve seen of an interview that will be aired in it’s entirety this evening before the game he says “it’s just a game.” There are things way more important than winning a football game.
    No wonder Mr. Elway doesn’t like him.

    The one thing about Tim Tebow that I don’t like is that he’s got me rooting for the Broncos.

    • Tebow definitely gets it. When he was interviewed after the game the other day, he said the biggest blessing of the day was getting to visit a sick kid who had a bunch of surgeries. I think Elway likes him a little better now than before… winning playoff games will do that!

  5. Seth Taylor says:

    We are free individuals and God doesn’t give a rip who wins a football game. Just as history is written by the victors, the Bible was written by people who interpreted events through their cultural and historical lense. Someone could just replace “David” with “Tim Tebow” and you’ll hear echoes of evangelicals in the story of David and Goliath.

    • Thanks for reading/commenting, Seth. Nice chat over on Cory’s wall too…..

      I agree that God doesn’t give a rip who wins… but I think he’ll use the football game and any other circumstance to ‘work for the good of those who love Him’, right?

      Perspective and ‘truth’, right? Good talking with you today.

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