I want to start off by saying this is the kind of theological article I don’t like to write. I like to write things that have an unassailable proof from Scripture backing it up. That being said, I also like to write about things that interest me, and this is certainly one of them. Feel free to comment if you disagree or want to discuss further.
I am a sports fan. I don’t watch or follow sports as much as I used to, but I still consider myself a fan. I grew up in southeast Missouri, where it seems the sun rises and sets on the St. Louis Cardinals. Some of my most treasured memories from my childhood involve sitting around the table with Grandpa or riding in the car with Dad listening to Jack Buck announcing the Cardinals games. Most of the time when I was a kid the Cardinals weren’t very good, but that didn’t seem to matter. It was more about sharing common bonds with family and people around you and spending time with a trusted friend. I can’t tell you how many times Jack Buck helped me with my homework, even in college, by saying just the right thing at the right time.
As a believer though, I (and all of us) have to ask myself if God cares about sports. Unfortunately in my experience this question usually arises from a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ who doesn’t like sports trying to criticize or demean those of us believers who do like sports. Most Christians I know have the idea that God does not care at all about sports. What happens in a particular game or season does not matter to God in any way. I think this thinking arose to keep people from praying for God to help their team win.
I think praying for your team to win is pretty much an exact definition of asking amiss that James warned us about in his epistIe. But I also think the idea that God never interferes in sports events is a flawed idea as well. I acknowledge that in the grand scheme of things as far as God is concerned, who wins or loses in a sporting event is very low on God’s priority list. But I want to propose to you that God can and does take an interest in sports when He can use them to build his Kingdom or bring joy to his people. I want to demonstrate this with a true story that happened 20 years ago today.
Tuesday, April 14, 1998, I was winding down my first year away at college. (I went to community college two years before.) It was a rough year for me. It was my first time being so far from home. By April I had been gone long enough that I had gotten over the raw emotions of being gone, but the feelings still nagged. April 14 happened to be a particularly rough day. I honestly don’t remember any particularly bad details - you’ll understand why in a moment - I just remember it as a bad day. I was really in a bad state of mind.
That night, I had the radio on, listening to the Cardinals game (so grateful for the massive signal of KMOX). Of course 1998 was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke the record for the most home runs in a season, but that was a long way into the future in April. I wasn’t paying very close attention to the game, but I did notice Mark McGwire hit a home run early in the game. Then later he hit another home run to give the Cardinals the lead, which made me happy.
By the eighth inning the game was a blowout, and the Cardinals certainly weren’t going to bat in the bottom of the ninth. So in the bottom of the eighth, McGwire came to bat one last time. I was listening pretty intently just to see if something would happen. Sure enough, a third homer for that night.
As I was quietly celebrating - I did have roommates after all, but they were used to me listening to baseball - celebrating the three home runs I heard a voice, clear as day, in my heart tell me, “That was for you.” To this day I believe that voice was from God. And why not? Looking at the box score for that game, the Cardinals were already up by 6 runs in the eighth when that third home run was hit. Would it really matter to God if the final score was 11-5 or 15-5? No. But do I matter to God? I am humbled and thankful that the answer is yes. And if the Lord knew he could raise my spirits by having that little ball go over the fence, why not give it a little extra breeze on the way out?
We evangelicals agree that God is in control of everything, don’t we? We agree that God works in big and small ways for our good and for the good of the church. Then why do some people think that the sports arena is so sacrosanct that God never gets involved? I think the people who think that God does not care are the ones who place sports on a higher pedestal than they should be. God can work in a myriad of other ways, but what happens on the sports field is always pure athleticism? Come on. Why do you limit God?
All I’m saying is this: when you’re watching your team lose a big game, it’s OK to be disappointed. But it might make you a little happier to know that in the opposing city there may be a dear old saint watching in a hospital bed surrounded by his family, and God is giving the family one last precious memory before he goes home to be with Jesus. Or maybe there is a genuine seeker in the stands who wants to know God is real. Or maybe it’s a thousand other scenarios.Those scenarios won’t get talked about the next morning on ESPN or in next week’s hometown newspaper, but I believe they are more real than the strategy points that people discuss.
God is at work in the big things and the tiny things in life all the time. He is bringing his Kingdom to fruition in more ways than we can imagine. God's sovereign power over the affairs of this world means he controls everything, including, as Jesus said, when a sparrow falls out of a tree. If God can bring something good into the lives of his people and even people who don't yet know him, through a sporting event, whether it is the Super Bowl or the local peewee football league, why wouldn't he? When we pretend these things don’t matter to God, all we really do is limit him in our own minds.