A group called American Atheists is sponsoring a digital billboard near MetLife Stadium targeted at Super Bowl attendees. Six times each hour through Super Bowl Sunday the billboard will proclaim, “A ‘Hail Mary’ Only Works in Football. Enjoy the Game!”
“Prayer is superstition, plain and simple,” says American Atheists President David Silverman.
It trivializes the dedication of the players and takes away from their achievements. A third of football fans pray in hopes of helping their team. These are adults we’re talking about—people with children, people with careers, people who vote. It’s 2014; it’s time to stop believing that prayer works. Give credit where credit is due and celebrate what this is really about—coming together to cheer on hard-working athletes doing what they do best.
On Fox News’ The Five on Friday, Greg Gutfeld seemed to agree. “If prayer actually works in a game no one would ever lose,” Gutfeld said. He added, “I don’t believe God designed the world on who’s the best pray-er.”
On the surface, Gutfeld and the atheists have a point. Several years ago when my son was playing football for a Christian school, the teams would huddle together before the games for a short prayer. As the team’s captain, Ryan was often called upon to lead the prayer, along with the captain of the opposing team. He admitted at one point that it didn’t seem right for both teams to pray to win and he thought it was especially awkward to pray for a win in the presence of the other team. They were, after all, asking God to bestow his favor upon one Christian team and not the other. How would God ever choose? Would he pick the team with the “best” Christians? The most fervent pray-ers? Or does God not bother with such trivial things as the outcomes of football games?
In the end, my son decided that he would pray for all the players to do their best and that God would protect them. He also prayed that he and the other boys would demonstrate Christ-like attitudes on the field and that they would honor God in the way they played the game. He would leave the outcome up to God and then play to win.
So does God care who wins the Super Bowl or the curling competition at the Winter Olympics or your family’s Monopoly game? Two of God’s attributes, his omniscience and his sovereignty, as described in the Bible, help to explain God’s view of matters that may seem trivial upon first glance.
First, Arthur W. Pink, in his classic book The Attributes of God, discusses God’s omniscience:
He knows everything; everything possible, everything actual; all events and all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth, and in hell. … He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do!” (Hebrews 4:13)
God’s word, as revealed in the Bible, teaches that God already knows the outcome of the Super Bowl. He knows the score, he knows about any injuries that will happen on game day. He knows if the lights will stay on at MetLife Stadium. God is aware of each instance of human trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl and his heart grieves for the women and children who are abused and dehumanized. (And it’s only because of his divine patience and mercy that he doesn’t strike down every trafficker — and murderer, adulterer, liar, and gossip — the moment
they we violate his laws.)
Second, Pink explains God’s sovereignty:
The sovereignty of God may be defined as the exercise of his supremacy. … Being infinitely elevated above the highest creatures, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as he pleases, only as he pleases, always as he please. None can thwart him, none can hinder him. So his own Word expressly declares: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
So, is God just sitting up in heaven moving the chess pieces of our lives, amusing himself at our expense?
Pink says it’s important to understand our place as the creatures and as such, we have no right to make demands of our Creator. But Pink reminds us of God’s moral perfection and goodness.
God is just and good, and ever does that which is right. Nevertheless, he exercises his sovereignty according to his own imperial and righteous pleasure. He assigns each creature his place as seemeth good in his own sight. He orders the varied circumstances of each according to his own counsel. He molds each vessel according to his own uninfluenced determination. He has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardens. Wherever we are, his eye is upon us. Whoever we are, our life and everything is held at his disposal. To the Christian he is the tender Father; to the rebellious sinner he will yet be a consuming fire.
Getting back to the original question of whether or not God cares who wins the Super Bowl, it is perhaps more appropriate to ask whether God cares about the outcome of the game in the lives of those associated with it. He cares intensely about each individual playing in the contest, each coach, each fan — and he has a plan for each one that will not be frustrated.
R.C. Sproul, Jr. explains it this way:
We need to remember that everything that happens must have a sufficient cause. And we must remember that every sufficient cause eventually traces its way back to God before time. This happens because that happened. That happened because this other thing happened. Eventually this takes us to “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”
Of course God works in and through secondary means. He gives the gifts. He creates the weather. The one who numbers the hairs on our heads softens the ground where a defensive back slips, and a playoff game ends on an eighty yard touchdown pass. There is no thing, no cause, over which He is not sovereign.
Isn’t it, though, somehow beneath His dignity to be concerned with such things? Yes, of course it is. God has only one concern — the manifestation of His glory. And that is how He determines what will happen in a football game, and what will happen in an election, and what will happen in a cancer ward. His goal isn’t ultimately to make little boys in Pittsburgh happy, or little boys in Denver happy. His goal, which cannot be thwarted, is to show forth who He is.
The Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that the chief and highest end of man is to “glorify God and to fully enjoy him forever.” Everything that happens in our lives works toward the purpose of glorifying God — making his name and reputation great and demonstrating his virtues and attributes. Even the bad things. Consider that the worst moment in history — the crucifiction of Jesus, the Son of God — was also God’s greatest moment. The prophecy of the death of Christ in Isaiah 53 said that “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” but in doing so God accomplished his eternal purpose:
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
God gets the credit — the glory — for that divine act of kindness. In that one moment God made a way for the creatures to have their sins permanently forgiven by the Creator through the substitutionary death of Christ for all who would receive it.
And God also gets the glory for seemingly smaller things as well, like accomplishing his will in the lives of Super Bowl participants and fans, high school football players and Olympic curlers alike. Soli Deo gloria — Glory to God alone!