I watched (for over two hours, with mild interest and more than occasional bouts of disinterest) the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball National Championship game last night. To be billed as the pinnacle of the sport and the culmination of all that has gone before with hundreds of Division I teams and the lead up to March Madness (the NCAA Tournament) in the sport of college basketball, saying that the game was a bust would be an understatement. Even the commentators called it “ugly”, interjecting that the first half was “as exciting as watching paint dry” and generally had little positive to say about how the game was played on either side, most especially by Butler who made NCAA history by shooting an ignominious historical championship low shot percentage of 18%!
All this is but a contextual prelude to ask the question that is the topic of today’s blog: Does God really care who wins the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship? And further, by extension, does He care who wins the Super Bowl, the gold medals given out at the Olympic Games, the BCS Bowl games, Johnie’s Little League game or any other sport venue of your choice for that matter? And what about the Women’s Basketball Championship, where Texas A&M just minutes ago knocked off “God’s Team” (or so say some of my devout and well-meaning Catholic friends)? The answer (my answer, of course, as this is my blog)? Unequivocally, yes!
So what team does God root for? And don’t you think that if he had a favorite team He would certainly have the “pull” to make sure they won every time? Would it be Notre Dame or someone else? Would it be the team with the most Christians on it or with a Christian coach or the one with the most noble motives (good guys don’t always finish last)? There are certainly plenty of folks on both benches and in the home and visitor stands desperately and fervently praying to the same God at the same time asking for the same outcome; a victory. Whose prayers will He hear? If we all knew the answer then the odds makers in Las Vegas would have to close up shop and go home!
Pay attention here. I said that I believe that God “cares” who wins, not because of individual or team favoritism (Scripture says there is no partiality with God), but because of a higher purpose-to shape the character of those playing the game (and watching it too sometimes-over-zealous team parents!). He wants to create more Christ-like character in those players that are His children, and use these players and the circumstances of the game and its outcome to testify that His ways are higher than our ways, even to those who do not have a relationship with Him yet. The trophies of this world all tarnish and are forgotten. Many end up in garage sales or landfills. No one can recall (except sports trivia junkies perhaps) who was Champion 5 years ago, 10 years ago, was MVP in 1998, etc., etc. Not surprisingly, a majority of people when asked can’t even tell you who played in the Super Bowl last year, much less who won!
So God cares who wins not for the reasons most of us care who wins. Not because it is our alma mater playing. And most assuredly not because we have a substantial bet on the outcome, or think the coach is a good man, or the underdog (David versus Goliath) deserves a little favoritism. No, rather it is for His higher purposes; that those who are His or will become His begin to take on the character of His only begotten Son, Jesus. That’s it? Really? That’s it!
Sometimes that process is very public and readily apparent and comes through magnificent victories and at other times it comes through defeat and is realized and internalized only by the individual competitors in the privacy of their own soul searching moments. I remember Kurt Warner, while playing for the St. Louis Rams, giving glory to God on national television after winning the Super Bowl trophy and Super Bowl MVP trophy in what was arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time against the Tennessee Titans (where the game was decided on the last play of the game by literally the length of the football!). I also vividly remember backup quarterback Frank Reich’s wonderful testimony following his leading of the Houston Oilers to the greatest come from behind victory in NFL history against the New York Giants. (He also holds the record for the greatest come from behind victory in college football as well). But, I am impressed with a different recollection of a post-game interview of an injured and humbled Colt McCoy, having been knocked out of his last game as a Texas Longhorn early in the first quarter of the BCS National Championship game in 2010, giving God the glory and seemingly understanding the higher purposes at work in his life, even though his team had just lost and he was unable to contribute and play which would have undoubtedly made a difference in the ultimate outcome of the game.
So, we need as Christians to look beyond the outward success, see into the inward process, and measure the results by our upward progress. It’s all about the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, the living Word of God!
“Because all flesh [mankind] is like grass and all its glory [honor] like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off. But the Word of the Lord [divine instruction, the Gospel] endures forever.” I Peter 1:24,25 (Amplified Version)