In what was a great weekend of NFL playoff games, perhaps the best of all of them was the Broncos/Ravens game. It was a game full of story lines: Peyton Manning back in the playoffs, Tim Tebow (he’s always a story line, right?) and, of course, Ray Lewis. Prior to the playoffs beginning, Ray Lewis announced that he would be retiring after the season. The former MVP and Super Bowl-winning Lewis will surely be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer but perhaps is best known for being charged with murder in 2000 and, ironically, with being an outspoken Christian.
Let’s set the scene: After the Ravens pulled off the upset and defeated the Broncos in overtime, Ray Lewis had the following to say in a post game interview:
He quotes part of Isaiah 54:17 by saying, “…no weapon forged against you will prevail.” He also says, “Man believes in the possible, God believes in the impossible.”
First off, I love Ray Lewis. I love that he plays with great intensity. I love his whole schtick of pregame dances and emotional speeches to teammates. It’s all quite entertaining. All this to say, I’m not a Ray Lewis “hater.” I genuinely enjoy watching the guy.
With that said, I cringed when I watched this interview. There’s far too much of this ignorance among celebrity Christian athletes. I can’t imagine a context in which using this verse as a rallying cry is a good thing. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgement and salvation. It discusses how he will rescue His people from spiritual, physical, and spiritual oppression. Isaiah can be a difficult book to study but it seems as if this verse is regarding the future exile of God’s people and the hope that God gives them in the midst of their suffering. Or, perhaps it’s regarding the 2nd coming of Christ and the restoration of all things. Regardless of your interpretation of this section of Isaiah, Lewis grossly misapplied the verse(s) (as Pastor Darrin Patrick humorously pointed out).
When Lewis quotes this verse, he consciously or subconsciously creates an “us” vs. “them” mentality. I’ve written about this before:
In sports, we make these lines in the sand. If you’re my teammate, you’re my friend. If you’re my opponent, you are my enemy. “Us” vs. “them.” “Good guys” vs. the “bad guys.” I’m not sure that’s what God would want.
This whole proposition of “us” vs. “them” is really an extension of the naturalist worldview. In other words, sports–just like every other area of my life–is a place to assert my dominance. It’s a representation of the “survival of the fittest.” When you think like this, your opponent (and even at times, your coach and teammates) becomes the enemy. He becomes someone to overcome and dominate in order to survive.
How would Ray Lewis answer these questions?
Are we to believe the Ravens are God’s “chosen” team? If so, why? Is it because there are Christians on the team? Does God favor teams who have more Christians than the other team? What would Lewis have said had they lost the game? Would that have made God a liar? Would their losing been a result of a lack of faith on their part? As you can see with these questions, co-opting your team and God’s promises to His people is tough sledding. The position is indefensible. Yet, athletes, coaches, and spectators at all levels of sports continue to do it.
This is not to say that God doesn’t care who wins. Quite the opposite actually; He cares very much about the outcome of the game. God doesn’t promise though to reveal how he is going to further His glory through the winners and losers of games. This reality should affirm the importance of sports (1 Corinthians 10:31) but should also produce humility. God is God and we are not.
I don’t know much about Ray Lewis’s faith journey. I do know he has a dark past but seems to be genuinely pursuing Christ. With all sincerity, and no condescension, I hope and pray he realizes the disservice this sort of talk leads to. And I pray God would raise up athletes, in victory and in defeat, who would acknowledge the importance but also the mystery of sports.