I just read an interesting post over at the Atlantic wherein a theologian tries to answer a question that has already plagued enough episodes of sportscenter. Is God helping Tim Tebow win?
I love the way it starts out:
Tim Tebow succeeds on the football field because of elves.
You can't see them on television. They're tiny. But when the game gets tight and the Denver Broncos need a fourth-quarter miracle, the elves come out and do his bidding. Forming a dense pack, they push 350-pound lineman aside, knock defensive backs off their stride, and give speed to Demayrius Thomas after he catches a pass.
That's why he wins.
What? You don't buy that? It's a lie, you're right. You know Tebow doesn't accomplish what he does because of elves. But when you hear about his faith, and the connection that some make between his devout Christianity and the success he enjoys on the football field, you might think it's about as likely that Tebow succeeds because of God's direct and benevolent intervention as it is that he wins games because of a roaming band of miniature wood elves.
Both sound ridiculous...The key word there being intervention. You see, if you are a Christian you believe that God is responsible for all things that happen. So technically, yes, God would be the reason Tebow is winning, and he would also be the reason this blog exists, and the reason I am writing this post.
The real issue that people seem so keen to debate is whether God is directly intervening with the game and "Forcing Tebow's hand" as it were. And who can blame them? Tebow is a horrible passer. The numbers don't lie. So, when he, I don't know, throws an 80 yard pass in overtime to upset a team that has been in three Super Bowls in the last six seasons people begin to suspect that something must be responsible for such an unlikely event.
What of it Theologian? Was God intervening in that game?
But is God directly intervening on the football field in the same way that, for example, he did to cause the virgin birth of Luke 2 (in what is called "primary causation")? That I don't know. It's not clear to my human eyes how this all shakes out. I do know that the Lord is working everything out according to his wise and mysterious counsel which, try as we might, we cannot fully understand.Ah. Okay. So God has a plan. If Tim Tebow wins or loses it is all a part of that plan. If he wins, it might be to make an example, but he might also lose for the same reason tonight against the New England Patriots:
But what happens when Tebow loses?...This is easier than your average late-night philosophical chat in the college lounge might make it seem. The Bible teaches that no believer is assured an easy road...On the contrary, it seems from biblical texts like Hebrews 11:35-38 that Christians will know considerable suffering in this world. Speaking of the most faithful leaders of the historic church—not the bad boys and girls of the Bible who would seem to deserve pain.So win or lose. God is responsible. We don't really know if God is intervening because the only time we truly understand his plans is when he straight-up tells us in a holy book. And last I checked, he hasn't written anything in a long time.
This whole Tebow thing and the larger issue of God in sports just baffles me. I was raised Catholic and went to church twice a week for the better part of my childhood. Every Sunday morning in addition to praying for the sick and the elderly, Father Sieferly would also ask us to pray for the University of Michigan's football team.
I'm now an apathetic atheist and die-hard Michigan State fan. Go figure.
To me, the wood elves explanation is just as reasonable as the God explanation for Tebow's success or for the success of the University of Michigan's football program. People just happen to see both Tebow's faith and his (undeserved?) success and think causation.
The real answer in Tebow's case is rather mundane. Once in a while an underrated quarterback is going to defy traditional metrics and have some success. It's a rare event to be sure, but it's not impossible. People have in the past (think Tom Brady) and they will in the future.
Sometimes performance doesn't fit prediction. Some people are outliers. Sometimes the pundits are wrong. That is what makes sports fun. If our stats and predictions were perfect, sports wouldn't be as fun as they are to watch. And that would be a shame.
Also, this skit from SNL seems as appropriate now as it did back in December: