Does God Care Who Wins?

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Guest Contributor

Huge games annually provoke the question, “Does God care who wins this game?”

Hovering over this discussion is a predominant but twisted American value long ago absorbed into our sports culture itself: Winning is everything in life, and losing is for losers. Winning is the ultimate worldly good in the sports culture; therefore, since God does “good” toward those who do “good,” the team reflecting the most “goodness” should win — or so the thinking generally goes.

Though most people might cringe at the unsophisticated nature of this argument, a recent Pew Religion Research Institute article reports that 48% of Americans believe athletes of faith are rewarded with good health and success, and the number jumps above 60% for professing Protestant Americans, regardless of racial background. We assume that God will bless the righteous with scoreboard victories and leave the less righteous sorting through their own limitations — both physically and spiritually.

Isn’t It Silly?

Christian athletes likely have fed this faulty theology in three decades worth of post-game interviews in which the victor ignores the first question and instead thanks God or his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” While subtly he may be thanking God for both the physical body and competitive opportunity to play, disguised instead in this shout-out to the divine is a cause-effect deduction: “Thank you, God, for loving me by being on our side and causing us to win!”

We quickly devolve into silliness when forced to imagine God wearing a particular nation’s jersey during the World Cup, or a Seahawks jersey this Sunday — or that he is somehow predisposed toward one major institution or another at the conclusion of March Madness. Yet even if God operated in this cartoonish way, even if we could put all the “righteous” on one team or another, God has a history of allowing his people to lose on the field so they can somehow win in the deeper, soul-centered arenas of life. His view of what constitutes a “win” or a “loss” couldn’t be more contrary to what we typically are fed as American viewers and participants of sport and life. (See the life of Joseph in Genesis 37–50, for instance.)

Yes, He Cares

But God most certainly does care who wins — just not in the way we do, and certainly not in the way implied by most post-game interviews. He cares about everything that happens in the universe. His sovereignty extends to the sub-atomic level, where every part of every atom arranges itself in relation to every other according to his plans and purposes — all of this in a world where humans make real choices that matter and have real consequences at every level of society.

To suggest he doesn’t “care” who wins is to be pressed into a corner opposite, but just as ridiculous, of the idea that he remains vested like a Vegas gambler. Indeed, his concern regarding games extends far beyond our own thin ideas of victory and defeat, profit and loss, success and failure.

God’s concern regarding games extends far beyond our own thin ideas of victory and defeat.

We care because our identity and esteem get inordinately attached to scoreboards. He cares because games are an opportunity for the physical beings he created to enjoy play.

We care because we’ve replaced God with games, making them an idolatrous substitute for God himself. He cares because game outcomes produce an opportunity for his people to glorify him through their choice to keep the game second — regardless of outcome.

We care because we have no higher sports goal in life than to “win” for ourselves. He cares because every aspect of human history points toward the highest aim of celebrating his son Jesus Christ.

The Final Victory

So God cares about the game. He knows that game conclusions will put individual lives on different trajectories, but also knows exactly how those trajectories fit into his plans for those same lives. Indeed, he is blessing both the Christian “winner” and “loser” with another opportunity to be rich toward God, to serve him with their bodies, responses, and general Christ-likeness before, during, and after the game itself. He even uses outcomes to allow non-Christian players to realize their need, to experience the hollowness of both victory and defeat within themselves, to move them toward a saving knowledge of Christ.

God jealously promotes his own glory. Everything that happens will ultimately point all things toward Jesus and his rule. He cares about the games and their final score, as circumstances that ultimately contribute to his own final victory.

(Ph.D. in American Culture Studies) works with Athletes in Action, the sport ministry of Cru, and is an elder at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Xenia, Ohio. He and his wife, Amy, have four children. He works out his salvation as a long-suffering fan of Cleveland sports teams.