A question was brought up on facebook the other day asking "What do you think of athletes praising God?" When I read that question my mind went immediately to the aforementioned comic bit. The point that the comic was trying to make was that if God is for one team, then he must be against the other team for some reason. It should be a two way street if God is in the business of deciding who wins the Super Bowl or the World Series or a collegiate National Championship. The losing team never blames a higher power for their loss, and it seems to be rather presumptuous to assume that God prefers who wins as opposed to who loses.
I think that athletes need to be careful what they say at the end of a competition regarding getting outside help in winning or outside interference in keeping them from winning.
In some sports, such as the more physical and dangerous sports like football and auto racing or soccer, might thank God that no one was injured or at least seriously injured. There are cases however when people do get hurt or even killed during an event. Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 one year. Joe Theisman's career as an NFL quarterback ended on a Monday night nationally televised football game when his leg was severely broken. Necks have been broken in sporting events leaving the competitor paralyzed from the neck down. I have witnessed all of these while watching events. Both Earnhardt and Theisman were good Christians that never hid the fact that they were. I had heard Earnhardt on several occasions thank God that no one was hurt during a car race, yet he himself died on the track. Did God forget to look out for Earnhardt on that fateful Sunday afternoon?
Now, I don't claim to know answers as to why Dale Earnhardt died that day or why Theisman broke his leg in so many places he wasn't able to run again or any of the other terrible injuries that have occurred over the years in all different kinds of sports. I imagine that a lot of those injuries and deaths happened to athletes who were Christians. Did God have a hand in these terrible accidents? I believe, to an extent, the yes God does have a reason for these things to happen, but it is awful hard to give God the glory for taking Dale Earnhardt's life. Then again, I do believe that God has a plan for all of our lives and if his plan for Earnhardt to leave this world at that time in his life, then so be it.
However, I do find it difficult to believe that God has a vested interest in who wins a ballgame. In 1986 in the World Series, Bill Buckner was playing first base for the Boston Red Sox. The Sox were playing game six against the Mets in New York and were poised to win the Series when a ground ball rolled through Buckner's legs costing the Sox not only the game, but eventually the Championship. Buckner received multiple death threats and eventually moved his family out of the Boston area. To some, it would appear that for close to a century, God had something against the Red Sox keeping them from winning a world Championship until recently when apparently the Red Sox worked their way into God's good graces. The same cannot be said of the Chicago Cubs who have gone over a century without winning a World Series. Is God more of a Cardinal fan than a Cubs fan? I really don't think so.
I believe that God gives these athletes the ability and the talent to participate on the highest levels of their particular sport. What the athletes do with these God given talents determines how successful they may or may not be. It is no different than God giving each of us a talent and ability that we should use to glorify God. He gives some the ability to play music or to sing. Gives others of us the ability to see things and to help fix things. Some of us have the God given ability to be able to talk to people and to help them in difficult situations.
Roger Staubach, a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, after many victories as well as tough losses, always thanked God for giving him the talent to be out on that field, win or lose. That is how athletes should thank God. Thank Him for giving an individual talent and providing them a way to use that talent in order to be a witness for their beliefs. If an athlete loses a big game and still comes out and thanks God for looking over him and thanking God for the ability he has been given, it goes a lot further as a witness for his beliefs than thank God for letting them win a game.
The question should be expanded though. What do you think of an athlete if he thanks Allah for victory or talent? What if they thank Buddha or a VooDoo god for their good fortune? There are plenty of god's that are worshiped around the world that athletes could give credit for victory.
My big question is how should Christians react to these athletes that thank a god other than the Christian God? The reaction of Christians to those athletes that thank, what Christians deem as false gods, can be as much of a witness for God as their own thanking of God for the abilities they have been given.I don't have any answers to any of these questions. I am not a religious scholar, not even close. The answer is out there though, and I think God will lead us to respond appropriately.