More than 100 million people watched the Seahawks defeat the Broncos yesterday, but New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wasn't one of them. Brady says that since his team lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game, "I could care less about watching the game."
Did God care who won yesterday's game?
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, half of all Americans think the Lord influences the outcome of sporting events. The percentage includes those who pray for God to help their team win (26 percent), think their team has been cursed (25 percent), or believe that God is involved in determining who wins (19 percent). Some 33 percent of football fans pray for God to help their team win. Sixty-two percent of white Evangelicals think God helps religious athletes; paradoxically, even one-fifth of those with no religious affiliation agree.
What does this phenomenon say about us?
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning wrote an autobiography in 2001. In it, he says that he prays "to keep both teams injury free, and personally, that I use whatever talent I have to the best of my ability. But I don't think God really cares about who wins football games, except as winning might influence the character of some person or group. Besides, if the Colts were playing the Cowboys and I prayed for the Colts and Troy Aikman prayed for the Cowboys, wouldn't that make it a standoff?"
Why do so many Americans disagree? We have a transactional religion we inherited from the Romans. They sacrificed to Mars before going into battle; we go to church on Sunday so God will bless us on Monday. We give money so God will bless our money and start the day with prayer so God will bless our day. Apparently some of us pray for our football team in the same transactional way.
Perhaps we think this is the kind of piety God wants from us, that the Lord of the universe is pleased when we take time from our busy schedules to pray and rewards us in kind. Or maybe we are simply checking all the boxes, a "no atheists in foxholes" kind of thing.
Either way, we can do better. Christianity is not a transactional religion but a transformational relationship. Jesus wants all of us so he can transform all of us (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not just for Sunday football, but for Monday life.
Who won the Super Bowl in 2012? (The New York Giants—I had to look it up.) Two years from now, who will remember the winner of yesterday's game? But your next act of surrendered obedience to your Lord will echo forever. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.
Publication date: February 3, 2014