Does God care who wins?

Here in Utah, during the week of the Utah-BYU football game, also known as the “Holy War”, fans on each side and get downright fanatical.  Being the church school, many mormons pretty much bear testimony that BYU is “the Lord’s school”, and that God wants BYU to win.  Fans of Utah get quite upset about this, and complain about BYU fan’s haughty attitude.

It’s always refreshing to me when I discover similar attitudes in other religions.  This article on MSNBC:  Does God care who wins the Super Bowl? even references the Holy War…  Here are some quotes from the article I found particularly interesting.

Does God care that Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, is more likely to be spotted carrying his bible than his playbook? Does God care that Ben Roethlisberger, Warner’s counterpart in Super Bowl XLIII this Sunday, used to adorn his armbands with the letters “PFJ”, an acronym for “Playing For Jesus” ….?

Last month, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford became only the second sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. Less than 10 seconds after taking the podium, Bradford, speaking before a national television audience, declared, “First, I need to thank God. He’s given me so many blessings. … Without him I’d be nowhere. We’d all be nowhere.”

What if a player thanked another deity?

what if some Cardinal or Steeler were to be named Most Valuable Player come Sunday and lead off his interview in front of the entire world, by saying, “I’d just like to thank L. Ron Hubbard and the church of Scientology?” Or, “I’d just like to express gratitude to my dark lord Beelzebub?”

Would such a sentiment be blasphemous? To whom? To proponents of Christianity, perhaps, but certainly not to proponents of the First Amendment.

Before Jesus there was the Old Testament, and before sport there was war. Did not the Israelite youth David slay the Philistine giant Goliath invoking God’s name?

Was David sport’s first trash-talker? It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.

This Sunday, hundreds of millions of people worldwide will tune in, with great interest and fervor, to watch a game with an outcome that has no direct bearing on their lives (unless they took Arizona plus the points). People will hug, they will cry, they will cheer, they will wreak unconscionable havoc on automobiles, based solely on the outcome of this game.

And religion is the opiate of the masses? Or is sport the new religion?

Two seasons ago, Brigham Young trailed archrival Utah — in a game denizens refer to as the “Holy War” — by a score of 10-9 with just over a minute remaining. At stake was the Mountain West Conference title. Facing fourth-and-18, Cougars quarterback Max Hall connected with wideout Austin Collie for a 49-yard completion.

BYU won 17-10, and afterward, Collie, a devout Mormon, told a radio reporter, “When you’re doing what’s right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part. Magic happens.”

Collie was widely excoriated in print for his comment, but did not back down. “I believe the Lord has truly blessed me,” Collie said. “It’s the reason why I’m playing football, and if you don’t believe that, the next time you receive an award, then don’t say you want to thank God first for your success. That is the same exact thing. For people to make an issue out of saying that the Lord helps me out is ludicrous.”

This past season Collie led the nation in receiving yards per game.

There’s a common thread that links Warner and Roethlisberger and Bradford and McCoy and Tebow and even Collie. Besides their football success, that is. All of them play glamour positions, playing relatively non-violent roles in a highly violent game.

What if Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who laid out Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee with a vicious fourth quarter hit in the AFC Championship Game, had pointed heavenward after delivering that blow? McGahee lay motionless on the field, but then again, Clark had caused a Super Bowl-clinching fumble.

If Clark had publicly thanked God for that moment, would that have been in any poorer taste than McCoy pointing skyward after tossing a touchdown pass?

I really think God has more important things to worry about than the winner of a football game.  Comments?

20 comments on “Does God care who wins?

  1. I think football is a great opportunity for God to humble a a select group of people quickly! 🙂 As far as it being something he gets involved in, He might enjoy a game now and then but I think He prefers basketball. 🙂

  2. I doubt he cares. Although I guess it is possible that, now and then, He cares for reasons that only He knows.

    If He did care, He would be a Utah fan.

  3. I’m sure Elder Worthlin would have agreed with The Teacher.

    It’s just too arrogant for me to believe that God actually helps football teams and players. The idea that God blesses one player or team due to their belief while not blessing another player or team, who generally believe just as deeply . . . No, thanks.

    The most egregious example I have seen in my lifetime was Deion Sanders doing his “Holy Ghost dance” after returning an interception for a touchdown.

  4. Nope. You’re wrong. God cares about football. Big time. I would provide you with a proof, but you’d probably get lost in the math. Just trust me on this one, OK?

  5. Glad to see we have so many people who know that Utah is the Lord’s university! 🙂

    But I have to ask this question. We are supposed to acknowledge God’s hand in all things, right? So, it’s great when Austin Collie, or Kurt Warner acknowledge God’s had in a touchdown, but shouldn’t they also acknowledge God’s had in an interception? Is it only appropriate to acknowledge the good things that happen to us?

    If God’s hand isn’t in who wins or loses, is it appropriate to address him in post-game comments?

  6. I have no problem with a simple and sincere thanks coming from someone who believes that God helped them make it to where they are in life. Most statements, like those by Kurt Warner, do nothing more than that.

    Thinking God favored you over other believers in a game is different, and, imo, so is any “acknowledgment” over a touchdown or interception. Showboating by doing a choreographed “Holy Ghost dance” is something else entirely.

    That’s my take, anyway.

  7. Yes, Ray, I think you’ve nailed it. I guess that Collie’s statement about the Lord stepping in is not exactly correct. “When you’re doing what’s right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part. Magic happens.”

    We all like to think God is personally involved in many of our daily activities, but if God isn’t helping Collie on the field, doesn’t it mean that he’s less involved in our day-to-day activities as well?

  8. I am comfortable with the idea that God blesses us to give our best perfromance. And that he blesses others to give their best performance. I have a hard time getting my mind around Him picking one team over another, or player A over player B.

  9. So does God bless players on the field, during the game? Did God bless Collie to make that catch on 4th and 18?

  10. Heck yeah, God cares. But not about teams. I think He cares about the individuals, and I certainly think he cares about individual success. Despite what certain intellectuals think about team sports, these guys playing football are at work – as inconsequential or trivial as that may seem. He does care about what we do with our lives and our ability to support our dependents.

    You can believe that there are Utes and BYU football players who are asking the Lord which NFL team to join, where to move their families, what kind of education opportunities will that provide their children (or forthcoming children); or whether or not to pursue professional football at all.

    Success on the field or in your own career prompts even more complexity when making huge career/family decisions and I think the Lord wants all of us to involve him in that – at the very least.

  11. I don’t believe God helped Collie make a single catch in a game. Perhaps God blessed him with athletic ability, but I don’t think God micromanages our lives, and I think far too many people think that God does.

    Satan wanted to force us to do what is right. Satan would have made sure that Collie made the catch, but I think God wants us to grow up, and he’s not going to get involved in many of the details of our lives.

    Besides, if Collie had dropped the ball, isn’t there a lesson that could be learned there? Whether he makes the catch or not, we can all learn from our successes and mistakes. To thank God only for successes is quite a lopsided way to view things. But you will never hear Collie, or anyone else say, “Thank God I dropped the catch, so I could learn [insert lesson here]….”

    If we only thank God for successes, shouldn’t we thank him for the lessons we learn from our failures? I don’t do this enough–does anyone?

  12. “doesn’t it mean that he’s less involved in our day-to-day activities as well?”

    I believe you are right, although I have had enough experiences that show He is aware of my day-to-day life (or month-to-month life) that I can’t say he doesn’t know or step in occasionally. I just prefer to think of those as the exceptions, rather than the rule.

  13. Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. D&C 130:20-21 says that all blessings are given according to obedience to the laws upon which they are predicated. Thus, maybe we could find more insight into whether Collie and Warner are “blessed” on the field by first attempting to determine which, if any, laws they are being obedient to.

    Elder Maxwell said… “God’s hand is surely in the pebble-like details as well as in the large panorama, and His ways of measuring are so much better than our ways.” The BD says that there are many blessings that God is willing to give us, but essentially withholds until we are willing to ask for them. Perhaps this is the difference–Collie and Warner are among those who ask for blessings in their play; as such, they would certainly be ungrateful servants if they didn’t render thanks after receiving an answer to their prayers.

    FYI: I hate BYU. I’ve hoped they lose each and every game for all 30 years of my life. It pains me to make an argument that Collie might actually be blessed while donning the blue and white.

  14. So, Scott, what laws are Kurt Warner and Austin Collie following? the Law of Hard Work? I guess I have no problem with that.

    But when we look at all the injustices in the world, it seems rather silly to think that God cares about a catch in a football game when a child’s prayer for relief from an abuser at that same moment ends with the child’s death. It seems the Law of Justice will only be reconciled in the next life, and doesn’t exactly seem fair. I know life’s not fair, but this seems unusually cruel.

  15. MH–

    I realized after I posted that I hadn’t closed the circuit–I mentioned the reference to the BD because that was my point–we are, in fact, commanded to pray in all things. Sure, we can debate exactly what “all things” means, but stated simply, I believe that Collie and Warner probably both knelt in prayer before kickoff and asked for God’s help in achieving their “best” that day. In that context, not thanking God would be inappropriate–though perhaps it would be more wisely done in private.

    So the “law” in question is that we are commanded to pray–as the BD says, many blessings are available to those who are simply willing to ask for them.

    Another way of looking at this is with regards to healing of the sick. I recall a post from a disenchanted ex-Mormon who was writing cynically about her bishop visiting her in the hospital and offering a blessing. She said that she asked the Bishop how he could believe in a God who would “withhold” blessings from everyone except the Mormons.

    I think she asked the wrong question–I don’t believe God withholds blessings of healing from non-Mormons. The right question is whether or not “additional” blessings are given to those who ask for them in faith. Does God reward extra exercising of faith? I say yes.

    Back to the ballgame–do you think that all players would have the same performance week in and week out if, before each game, every player knelt privately and asked the Lord to help them be their best? I sure think you’d see some differences, although it’s a completely untestable/unprovable hypothesis.

    As to it being silly to think that God cares about a catch in a football game, I don’t believe that in one sense, and I don’t think you do either. To be sure, it depends on what you mean by “cares.” I think you’re right in that the outcome of the game doesn’t affect the great plan of salvation, but to suggest that God would not listen to my prayers, comfort me, or use sports as a way to teach me lessons in life, or tell me to shut up as I pray about my frustrations over my recent play on the basketball team (hypothetical, here…I suck at sports and would never pray about them) is wrong-headed on so many levels. I believe in a Savior who knows and loves me. How could I possibly believe that He could know and love me and not care about what troubles and concerns me?

    Bringing up a tortured/abused child is nothing more than a strawman form of argument here, and doesn’t even approach usefulness in answering the question at hand. Most anything is trivial compared to a child being tortured, so does it follow that God is not involved in anything? Of course not. Neither of us can possibly speak for what blessings God provides little children in such situations, but I think it unwise to assume He is not watchful. Deliverance is not the only form of blessing.

    I know God has comforted me when I asked for help on something so trivial as a math test. As such, how can I possibly dispute a catch in a football game?

  16. Scott,

    I don’t think God cares who wins, because he can teach life lessons win or lose. For example, since the Steelers won, Ben Roethlesberger now has the test of Job: can he handle success? Kurt Warner, since he lost, has the test of can he handle adversity?

    But if the outcome had been the opposite, Kurt and Ben would just switch tests. Either way, God is going to teach life’s lessons, and therefore, he doesn’t care who wins. His purposes are going to be accomplished no matter who wins the game. God doesn’t care. But Ben and Kurt care…

    Ok, I’m not sure what you mean by strawman, so let me give you a personal example. I’m sure you believe in the Proclamation on the Family. I expect you believe that God hates divorce, and wants children raised by a father and mother.

    My brother was killed in a car accident about 2.5 years ago. His wife was severely injured, as were 2 children, and 2 children escaped with extremely minor injuries. The oldest child was 7 at the time, and received only a few stitches.

    So, the question is, if God really wants a family raised with a father and mother, why did he allow my brother to die? This experience has been very traumatic for the 7 year old girl. For some reason, she blames her mother for my brother’s death. (My brother was driving, and his wife was asleep at the time of the accident.) The 7 year old is now acting out, pulling out her hair, refusing to go to school, and even ran away from home.

    Has she been tempted beyond her 7 year old ability? I think so. Would she have these problems if my brother were not here. I doubt it. Would it have been better for her family if my brother hadn’t died? Certainly.

    You can’t tell me that God cares more about a 4th and 18 catch than the death of a father. If Collie had dropped the catch, nobody would have pulled out their hair, or ran away, or quit going to school, or started acting out. The results are trivial. Collie would have learned a lesson, catch, or drop. I suppose my niece is learning a lesson, life or death, but if she falls into depression, starts abusing alcohol and drugs, it sure seems it could have been prevented if she had an earthly father to guide her. (Of course, she may have been susceptible to depression anyway, but at least it could have been delayed to her teenage years, instead of age 7, where theoretically she would have better coping skills.)

    God doesn’t care who wins, and sometimes doesn’t seem to care (enough to get involved) who dies either. I’m sure God has a grand purpose, but I won’t know until the next life.

  17. Strawman = To “set up a straw man,” one describes a position that superficially resembles an opponent’s actual view, yet is easier to refute. Read here for more.

    In the earlier comment, you said, essentially, that because God doesn’t care about a kid being tortured, it’s wrong to think He cares about a jock asking for a blessing. In this case, your story about your family was just another strawman. I do not mean to trivialize what your family is going through–I’m just saying you’re using a classical form of a flawed argument, and your points fall apart once that strawman is knocked down.

    Of course I don’t think God cares more about a 4th and 18 catch than He does about a father’s death. I never said I do. My question is why you impose such a condition of mutual exclusivity on what God can bless and what He can’t. (We all do this strawman/mutual exclusivity thing frequently–it’s what helps us win arguments with (supposedly) intellectually inferior people. It’s also why such victories often feel hollow afterward.)

    See, the problem is that you’ve changed my argument around into something I never argued. I have never said that God cares who wins (except way up earlier in a comment a long time ago, where I was being very sarcastic); I said only that I think it’s wrong-headed to assume he doesn’t bless individual athletes when they ask for blessings. Why wouldn’t He? Why would He command us to ask for blessings in our daily lives if He has no intention whatsoever of granting blessings? The BoM mentions (somewhere in Alma) the commandment to pray over our flocks…well, Kurt Warner’s “flock” is a football game. So is Collie’s. My flock is economic analysis. I pray for help. There you have it, sir–a scriptural commandment to pray over something that is apparently “trivial”: your job.

    Your post title was about God caring about who wins or loses. Very few of the comments have had to do with that, though, and none of my points in the earlier comment have. They have been almost without exception about whether or not God is involved in the details of our lives. My life experience has been that He is intimately involved.

    I just think it’s odd that you’re disputing Austin Collie’s claim that God is involved in the details of his life on the basis of your having not been shown the nitty gritty details of God’s dealings with a kidnapped child. That is a strawman argument.

  18. “My question is why you impose such a condition of mutual exclusivity on what God can bless and what He can’t.”

    When did I argue this? I have never limited God. Yes, I suppose God can act like “Angels in the Outfield” if he wants. But I find such actions to be highly unlikely, and makes God seem quite capricious. If that’s a God you support, well, I think you have a mistaken belief in God.

    “See, the problem is that you’ve changed my argument around into something I never argued.”

    Please read the title of the post. I didn’t change your argument. The title of the post says “Does God cares who wins?” That’s the point, and you don’t want to answer the question. You’re the one changing the argument here, not me. You want to change it to “Does God bless our lives?” Well, that’s a different question now, isn’t it? You changed the argument, not me, and then conveniently blamed it on me. Sounds like a strawman argument to me….

    Yes, God does bless our lives, but he doesn’t care about a 4th and 18 catch, because his purposes can be accomplished no matter whether the ball is caught or dropped. Yes, he will bless us either way. The problem I see is that Collie will acknowledge God’s blessings in a catch, but won’t acknowledge God’s blessings if he had dropped the ball. Do you disagree?

    “My life experience has been that He is intimately involved.”

    Ok, God bless Collie for helping him to win his football game. How is God blessing my brother’s family through his death?

    Your best answer is “I don’t know,” or “God’s ways are man’s ways.” I don’t know either. God is infinitely more complex than either one of us can comprehend. I just believe that God enjoys having us wrestle with these kinds of questions. I think good can come of it. I think Collie’s faith is immature if he thinks God helped him on 4th and 18. God allows all sorts of good and bad things to happen to us for our benefit. I don’t believe there are “Angels in the Outfield” affecting the outcome of wins and losses–God doesn’t get involved that way. It’s immature to believe he does. I’m not limiting God here–he can be Angels in the Outfield if he wants, but I just find these notions immature, and not grounded in reality.

    In reality, he wants us to win some, lose some, struggle with difficult questions, and mature in the Gospel. But he doesn’t twist foul poles for home runs, or cause us to make spectacular plays in an immature effort to win. Could he? Yes. Does he? I don’t think so.

    He didn’t get involved in a my brother’s death. What on earth makes you think he cares about 4th and 18? Do you think God loves Collie more than my brother? I’m sure you don’t, but please explain how God is intimately involved in Collie’s 4th and 18 catch (“Magic happens”) and then turns a blind eye when my brother is driving the speed limit and properly seatbelted on I-15. Why is God intimately involved in Collie’s life, and not my brother’s life?

    My answer is that God can teach lessons without being intimately involved. He allows one group of passengers to be saved on the Hudson, and then allows another group to crash into a house in Buffalo a few weeks later. Trying to make sense of these 2 incidents leaves us scratching our heads, but trying to insinuate that God is intimately involved in the former, and then is not involved in the latter makes God illogical. I have to conclude that God is not intimately involved in all aspects of our lives. You can’t say that he was intimately involved to save everyone in the Hudson, and then that he was not intimately involved in Buffalo. Why did “magic happen” on the Hudson, and not in Buffalo?

    God is not a respecter of persons. I think God’s purposes can be accomplished, even if he is not intimately involved.

  19. What a great topic! I’d like to weigh in even though I am not a Mormon. I have a statement and then a question. First, the statement:

    95% of the world’s population lives in poverty. Most of the countries that are home to these impoverished people are religious (i.e. India, Mexico, Afghanistan, etc.) They believe in God. I dare say, more than the average American citizen. Yet, it seems they are “blessed” with polio, swine flu, brutal regimes, drug addiction, ad infinitum.

    Here is the question(s):

    Does God care about the well being of his most ardent believers? Or is the lesson on this planet really about learning to accept that the only person that truly cares about your well-being is you? Is it possible that the reason Kurt Warner is so successful is because he cares more about himself than the rest of us do?

    Sure, he gives credit to God, but don’t you have to think yourself worthy of “God’s” blessings in the first place? It takes a mighty arrogant man to fashion himself as being so important that “God” would actually tilt the windmills in his favor regardless of the endeavor.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Kurt. I just think he’s full of crap when he spouts off that God baloney. He knows damn well that the only reason he’s on the field is because he worked his ass off. I see no evidence that God gives 2 rat’s rear ends who lives or dies, wins or loses, eates or starves, etc. etc. etc. There has never been one instance in the history of mankind where it was apparant God took a side. Just ask the Jews. They know this better than anyone. Unless you believe God is a fair weather fan…

  20. Welcome Matt! That’s a very interesting perspective. I wish I had a rebuttal, but I don’t. We have a tendency to see God in our lives when we’re successful, but absent when we fail. I wish we could see God’s hand better.

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