I noticed last night at the end of the championship game between Clemson and Alabama that most, if not all, the Clemson players in the post-game interviews (including Coach Swinney himself) invoked God or Christ as the source for their victory. Later, while I was reading responses to the game on one of the sports forums, a participant asked this question: “I wonder how anyone on the team who is not a Christian or a believer feels about that?”
As a pastor, I am often asked my opinion on whether God “plays favorites” in sports or in any other aspect of life. It certainly does not bother me for anyone to give thanks to God for any achievement, but to me the essence of faith, reflected in the teaching of Christ, is the ability to glorify God in the best AND the worst of times. God does not pick winners and losers in sports or in anything else, and my proof for this in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ died for everyone, and in that act of unconditional love gave the gift of grace to all who accept it.
In pagan religions, the gods were always choosing winners and losers. Even in Christianity, there is still a view in the fundamentalist/evangelical streams that if bad things happen to us, God is either punishing us or God is showing us that we lack faith. While it is true that God “knows the number of the hairs on our heads,” Christ makes it clear that such deep knowledge of our lives is for the sake of love, not of judgment: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 1-7)
In the reformed view of Christianity, glorifying God is sourced in what God has already done for us in Christ – not for what is happening to us while living our lives every day. Winning and losing is a matter of perspective, defined by the values of the world or our personal values. Of course, if I played football at the college or pro level, I would be thanking God after every game for simply surviving, but God did not choose Clemson to win this year no more than God chose Alabama to lose this year.
The message of Christ is simple – no matter our triumphs or tragedies, our successes or failures, our good days or bad days, God love us, and this is not just a cause for thanksgiving, but a call to share that love with those around us – no matter who wins.