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.