According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey taken one week before the Super Bowl, nearly 3 out of 10 Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event. And 53% believe that God rewards those athletes who have faith with good health and success.
If they are right, the Baltimore Ravens players and coaches had more faith than the San Francisco 49ers, because they won Super Bowl XLVII. Three points more faith, since the final score was 34-31.
Baltimore’s Ray Lewis, who constantly mentions God, must have more faith than San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, whose body is tattooed with Scripture.
Lewis continues to be a polarizing figure to some because he pled guilty to obstruction of justice as part of a plea agreement in a double murder trial in Atlanta in 2000. Former New York Giants receiver Amari Toomer said, “If you want to say you’re Mr. Religious and all of that, have a clean record. Don’t say all of that stuff if you know there’s stuff that might come back. Those are the things that, when I look at him, I just think hypocrisy.”
On that basis, however, King David was a hypocrite too. After his major wrongdoings (Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, et al.), he wrote, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51:14–15). We know David repented because of the Psalms. And while we don’t know what is in Ray Lewis’s heart—only God does— if Lewis has indeed repented, can’t he also praise God?
Or does God give health and victory only to those who certainly seem more squeaky clean, like Kaepernick? Which would have one wonder: Why didn’t Kap win the Super Bowl and the MVP award, instead of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who, by the way, hurled a celebratory profanity on TV right after his team’s victory?
There’s a lot that doesn’t seem to square when we compare our plight in life and whose side God is on.
Consider Job. God said of him, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Right after God said that, Job lost all his livestock, his servants and his ten children. Then he got horrendous sores all over his body. Eventually, God restored Job’s health and possessions, gave him ten more children and a long life. But would you trade places with him?
Consider David Akers, 49ers placekicker and a devout Christian. In 2010, Akers lost most of his life savings to a Ponzi scheme. A year later, with the Philadelphia Eagles, Akers was about to face the Green Bay Packers in a wildcard playoff game. The night before, Akers learned that his then six-year-old daughter, Halley, had a malignant tumor. Akers missed two field goals—the difference between a win or a loss—as the Eagles fell 21-16. (A week later, Halley underwent successful surgery, and she is now cancer free.)
Did God “intervene” in that game, distracting Akers with horrible news about his daughter so that the Eagles would lose?
Here’s what Akers says, “We all go through trials…. My business is playing football, and I try to do it to the best of my ability. There’s some times where you have success and other times where you have failures…. I don’t want my legacy to be that I was great at making long field goals or filling up the stat sheet. I’d rather be known as a great husband and father, a good friend and teammate. I have a purpose in this life — to give glory to God in all things.”
Years ago my colleague Susan Perlman interviewed San Francisco Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky just prior to his going out onto the field to face Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser. She asked Dravecky, “Whose prayers does God hear and answer when it comes to winning a game with both pitchers being exemplary believers in Him?” Dravecky paused and then told her, “I never pray to win a game—only to play my very best.”
I believe God helps those with faith in Him to give their best effort on the athletic field. But that doesn’t guarantee victory. If God went by our sin record in meting out victories, no one would win. He says that all of us are sinners—”There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3)—but that we are his most valuable players in the game of life: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We have a much bigger issue to deal with than achieving worldly success—that is acknowledging that on our own, we can’t win God’s favor. But Jesus has won it for us by living a perfect life and dying for our sins. And no survey is as accurate as the fact that ten out of ten people who put their trust in Him will go to heaven.