Professional Athletes and the God of the Ages

For those outside the US, yesterday was our high pagan ritual to professional sports—the Super Bowl! Now I enjoy watching football, but I always feel my jaw clench whenever I hear one of our professional athletes try to invoke God’s in the process. Usually what comes out trivializes the God I love.

That was true yesterday hearing Terrell Owens credit God’s healing powers for his ability to play after breaking his ankle six weeks ago. “A lot of people in the world didn’t believe I could play, but my faith alone—the power of prayer and the power of faith carried me along the way.” I am certainly in no place to make a judgment as to whether God healed him or not, but with so many other dire needs in the world, I doubt having Mr. Owens in that football game was high on his priority list. I will be with someone tomorrow who has a severely handicapped child and who questions every day the reality of God’s love for her and her daughter. I can’t imagine how she feels if she thinks God has the power to fix an ankle for an over-paid and way-too-arrogant athlete while ignoring her cries of normalcy for her daughter.

But then professional athletes are not known for their sense of proportion. And I honestly feel for them. Can you imagine what it would be like to live your whole life measured every moment by your performance? They are adored, only for what they can produce, and when that goes so will their adulation by the crowds. If you want to see how shame distorts our lives, you need look no further than the boasting or blaming by those who have had to live by their performance the most. It’s no wonder they can only see God as a success-deity who will stop at nothing to make them succeed. Except when he doesn’t.

A few months ago another famous football player passed away unexpectedly at 43. Reggie White was a defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers and well known for his personal faith. Yes, when his team won the Super Bowl, he said something a bit ridiculous like this victory was proof that God had sent him to Green Bay. I always wonder what the losing players feel at times like this. Is their loss proof that they missed God’s will?

After Reggie’s death, however, an interesting story emerged. You didn’t see it in the major press, but a few reporters covered it. It seemed at the end of his life, Reggie was on a bit of a spiritual journey that had taken him outside the whole structure of organized religion. He had stopped attending Sunday services and stopped preaching to congregations around the country. Why? It could have been the fact that after raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild an inner city church facility that had been burned to the ground in Knoxville, TN, the pastor he did it for was arrested for spending the money on cocaine. He began to question whether the money he raised would have been more helpful going directly to those who need it instead of paying for ostentatious buildings or salaries of so-called church leaders. Or, it could have been his growing awareness that people who came to hear him speak were more excited about seeing Reggie White than coming face to face with Jesus Christ.

Whatever it was, he quit! He told ESPN/s Andrea Kramer that he hadn’t been in a church building for four years and was on a journey to find out who God really was. He was still a passionate man for the Lord Jesus but had lost confidence in the institutions that had grown up in his wake. When he died, Reggie was on a journey to discover who God really was rather than to trust what he had been told about him. What a story! Isn’t it sad that he had to get away from football to recognize that God wasn’t who he thought he was? That’s what gives me hope for the rest of them.

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4 Comments
  1. Allen February 8, 2005 at 5:40 am

    Good post. But the problem isn’t limited to athletes. Unfortunately, a side effect of seeking a personal relationship with the God of the universe is that we can come to see ourselves as the center of that universe and everything that happens as a result of God doing it to or for ME, regardless of the effect the same event has on others. I have heard people attribute a major change in local weather patterns to God specfically doing it for their benefit or punishment. In one case the change was a break in a drought that had been devastating the local farmers and the farm dependent cities. One man believed the much desired and prayed for break came, not as a benefit to the rest of the population, but as a means of punishining him because he had started a business that was harmed by the end of the drought. God didn’t want him to get rich with his own business. Apparently Father listened, unmoved, while godly farmers begged for rain. He was only moved to action when he saw a chance to punish a single man.

    And then there are the people who see the fact that a tornado passed around them, destroying countless other lives, as God redirecting the storm for their benefit, without regard for their neighbors who did get hit. Even when taking a path through their house would have resulted in less destruction over all. Apparently God isn’t powerful enough to prevent the tornado altogether or make it pass over unaibited ground, but He can pick and choose among the people that it will hit. And, of course, I will be spared becasue I have a special "in" with God that my neighbors don’t.

    And religious leaders are all too happy to reniforce this by claiming any major event as a sign from God that their particular theology is correct. After the Tsunami, Christian leaders claimed it was God punishing the Muslims for opposing Christians, since it mostly hit muslim countries. At least one muslim cleric declared it was God punishing wayward muslims because they cooperated too much with Christians.

    God seems to have a very difficult time expressing Himself clearly!

  2. maryann February 8, 2005 at 6:20 am

    wow…my son heard a small blip on tv on Sunday having to deal with a dream that Reggie had the night before his last day here on earth.

    seems he found a treasure box in his dream and opened it…the treasure box had a Hebrew word on it (son wasnt sure what it was) but he woke up and told his family of the dream…

    he ran the race and reached his treasure…he was done.

    i find this whole story very encouraging…hope more people hear it. Search for HIM, SEEK HIM…not just services and salaries and new carpets and busses and tracts….HIM.

    ….on my face today…searching desperately for Christ…

  3. Allen February 8, 2005 at 8:40 am

    Good post. But the problem isn’t limited to athletes. Unfortunately, a side effect of seeking a personal relationship with the God of the universe is that we can come to see ourselves as the center of that universe and everything that happens as a result of God doing it to or for ME, regardless of the effect the same event has on others. I have heard people attribute a major change in local weather patterns to God specfically doing it for their benefit or punishment. In one case the change was a break in a drought that had been devastating the local farmers and the farm dependent cities. One man believed the much desired and prayed for break came, not as a benefit to the rest of the population, but as a means of punishining him because he had started a business that was harmed by the end of the drought. God didn’t want him to get rich with his own business. Apparently Father listened, unmoved, while godly farmers begged for rain. He was only moved to action when he saw a chance to punish a single man.

    And then there are the people who see the fact that a tornado passed around them, destroying countless other lives, as God redirecting the storm for their benefit, without regard for their neighbors who did get hit. Even when taking a path through their house would have resulted in less destruction over all. Apparently God isn’t powerful enough to prevent the tornado altogether or make it pass over unaibited ground, but He can pick and choose among the people that it will hit. And, of course, I will be spared becasue I have a special "in" with God that my neighbors don’t.

    And religious leaders are all too happy to reniforce this by claiming any major event as a sign from God that their particular theology is correct. After the Tsunami, Christian leaders claimed it was God punishing the Muslims for opposing Christians, since it mostly hit muslim countries. At least one muslim cleric declared it was God punishing wayward muslims because they cooperated too much with Christians.

    God seems to have a very difficult time expressing Himself clearly!

  4. maryann February 8, 2005 at 9:20 am

    wow…my son heard a small blip on tv on Sunday having to deal with a dream that Reggie had the night before his last day here on earth.

    seems he found a treasure box in his dream and opened it…the treasure box had a Hebrew word on it (son wasnt sure what it was) but he woke up and told his family of the dream…

    he ran the race and reached his treasure…he was done.

    i find this whole story very encouraging…hope more people hear it. Search for HIM, SEEK HIM…not just services and salaries and new carpets and busses and tracts….HIM.

    ….on my face today…searching desperately for Christ…

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