Written by Bob Schindler, Executive Director of CEDE Partners – an Initiative of CEDE Sports, Written for Faith Driven Athlete.
I wrestled with this question..
Especially after losing in a playoff at PGA Tour Qualifying School. (Click here to learn more of that story.) I cared who won that day. The question I left with that day is, “Does God?”
While this question is often bantered about on sports shows, in sports bars, or even on the covers of sports magazines, my journey to answer this question is personal. Very personal. The way I relate to God, especially in regard to my passion for competing, hangs on that answer. I either close or open my competition to God. I either move toward or away from him as a result of my answer. This makes the question a critical one.
In my search, I find many athletes who answer “No!” to the question. Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers, said, “I don’t think God cares about the outcomes of football games!” after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Packers in the 2015 Division Championship Game where Seahawk quarterback credited God with their dramatic comeback. 80% of American Christians agree with Aaron.
The reason mostly given for this “No” answer is epitomized by this writer from the Active Faith sports website who says, “When you think of all the issues the world faces and the interests that God has, we don’t believe God really cares who wins or loses games and athletic competitions.”
A God who has two buckets
If I adopt this view I have a God who has two buckets – a God Does Care bucket and a God Doesn’t Care bucket. All things in life go in one bucket of the other. My competition goes in the God Doesn’t Care one.
I begin to think of God as a “disinterested spectator” to my competition. Confused, I start asking, “Who decides what goes in which bucket?” and more importantly, “What becomes important enough in my life to actually make it into the God cares bucket?”
I find many others have the same confusion. Kurt Warner, Super Bowl XXXIV’s Most Valuable Player and proclaimed Christian, states, “Do I believe that as a son of God that my life is important to him? No question about it….But I don’t know how that fits into winning and losing per se.”
In that uncertainty, I try to convince God to care about what I care about – winning. In the movie, For the Love of the Game, Kevin Costner’s character is in the midst of pitching a perfect game and develops some soreness in his shoulder. At that point, the movie gives a look into a conversation he has on the mound with God – “God, I always said I would never bother you about baseball, Lord knows you have bigger things to worry about, but if you could make this pain in my shoulder stop for ten minutes, I would really appreciate it.”
The writer epitomizes every other athlete’s struggle who holds this two-bucket perspective. If I win, I think I convinced God to care. If I lose, I am left with a God who has more important items than me and my career or future. I am left alone to resolve my disappointment for what happened. Now wondering what else there is in my life that God doesn’t care about.
I see a different picture when I turn to the Scriptures.
Rather than limiting God’s concern to only “important things”, I find verses like
- “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
- “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” Psalm 33:13-15 (emphasis mine)
- “And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30
These verses seem to put everything and everyone into the God Cares bucket. Jesus says that “even the hairs on your head are all numbered,” I realize the difficulty of such a task – counting hairs – but even more important the insignificance of it. Some might say that God certainly can’t care about such an unimportant item as that. Yet, Jesus affirms He does.
If not NO then YES?
If I move away from the NO answer toward the YES! answer, I find many athletes and coaches in agreement. Dabo Sweeney declared, “Only God could do this!” in a post-game interview with an ESPN reporter after Clemson’s historic win in the College Football Playoff National Championship game against Alabama in 2017.
As I dig deeper into those claims, I find that proponents, often unintentionally, seem to declare that will take sides and give one team a victory over another. Others, like BYU wideout Austin Collie, go even further. After BYU defeated their archrival Utah, 17-10, on a 4th and 18 play, he said “When you’re doing what’s right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part. Magic happens.” God rewards the winners for their good deeds and, by implication, punishes the losers for their bad ones.
Deterring from the Gospel
These ideas are a distortion of the core message of Christianity. Instead of an unconditional offer of grace from a heart of love the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a conditional transactional arrangement of works. Christianity loses its distinction of God descending to us. It becomes our attempt to ascend to God.
God has moved from a disinterested spectator to a cheerleader for the winners. He is now a genie that I can manipulate through my hard work and intense devotion.
In winning, I am proud. In losing, I am wondering what I did wrong to cause God to withhold the victory from me. This is what I thought after my PGA Tour Qualifying loss. As I left, I felt ashamed.
As I acknowledge that shame, I find dissatisfaction with that YES answer. I read about and know God’s love to be different – unconditional, lavish.
- “God demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
- “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not give us all things with him.” Romans 8:32
I realize I must go deeper, beyond the simple no and the simple yes.
I have to find the best answer.
The best answer declares that God cares who wins but for very different reasons than I do. I care about winning and losing because of what it says about my glory. God cares about winning and losing because of what it says about His glory. He cares who wins, He cares who loses. He cares because of the way that winning and losing show the world who He is. This is why Paul implores his readers that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1Corinthians 10:31 I paraphrase that verse to say “whatever I do in competition, I do it all to show God off, to make him famous, to display what a magnificent God He is.”
As I read through the Scriptures, I find one more important, life-changing discovery in this journey. I see that my passion for glory (mine or His) is just a drop in the ocean of His passion for His own glory. I find Him to have more passion for winning and losing and the way they contribute to his glory than I ever will.
This transforms me.
I don’t have to hide or suppress my passion. I bring my competition and my passionate heart to him and redirect my passion for winning to a passion for His glory.
This best answer makes God great and everything – including winning and losing – meaningful. I am not repelled but drawn to God to satisfy my heart in a way that nothing I will ever experience here can.
As one writer puts it – “If you can’t see the sun, you will be impressed with a street light. If you’ve never felt thunder and lightning, you’ll be impressed with fireworks. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God, you’ll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures.” I paraphrase that to bring it home – “If I turn my back and take my competition away from God, I will fall in love with wins that contribute to my glory and hate losses that demonstrate my lack of glory.”
But I have seen the sun. I have felt the thunder and am drawn to the greatness and majesty of such a glorious God.
This is my journey.
It began with my loss in Tour School that day. Here starts the journey filled with much introspection and what if’s, struggles with my identity and shame. A journey of wrestling with God and the Scriptures to answer this question, and ultimately, of movement toward God, to the only one who can change this desperately longing and often self-absorbed heart.
Does God care who wins? Absolutely, but for very different reasons than we do!
Bob Schindler has written a book to delve deeper into this question. See this resource page for more information about the book, how to get a copy, as well as FREE resources to use this book in your ministry.