Two years ago, when the Cubs won the World Series, our family wished we could be in Illinois to join in the celebrations. Because, let’s face it, the number of people who were stupid-excited about that feat in central Pennsylvania were few and far between.
So, when I went to work yesterday, the day after the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl title, I got a sense of what that would be like. It was all anyone wanted to talk about.
I’m happy for the team and its fans. I know what it’s like to wait a long time for your team to succeed. So, congratulations!
I don’t remember when I first heard about all the Eagles players who are committed Christians, who are creating community and baptizing each other in hotel pools. But during the post-game interviews was the first time I had heard their professions of faith for myself.
I tweeted this in response:
Guys, I love Jesus. I just dunno about all the credit being given to God for the #SBLII win. Because God is present in the losing, too. Victory does not always equal God’s favor.
— Lisa Bartelt (@lmbartelt) February 5, 2018
I have become increasingly uncomfortable with testimonies and stories that are told only when the conclusion is favorable, successful or victorious. (Pick your word.) And while I don’t doubt that these players truly are thankful for their God-given abilities and the circumstances that placed them on this team at this time in history, I have a problem with the way we sometimes react to this news.
I am shocked that some people of faith think that the Eagles won the Super Bowl because there is a significant group of Christians on their team. As if God’s reward for living a faithful life is a sports trophy. (See Hebrews 11 for a listing of faithful people who were promised something and died before they received the blessing from God they were promised.)
God might be showing us something through this band of football players, but it’s not that He loves one team more than another or that a sports victory is a sign of his blessing.
The articles I’ve read about the team show me that authentic community makes a difference in people’s lives. The NFL is a workplace for these players, but it’s more than that because I’m sure they spend more than 40 hours a week together. Like anyone who spends a lot of time with people, if you genuinely care about each other and share what you believe in a non-threatening way, (and if the Spirit leads and the time is right–you guys, it’s not about us AT ALL), you are bound to have some kind of impact on those around you. Authentic community changes people. That is the takeaway here. It is not that God rewards a group of people with a Super Bowl ring because they’re His followers.
If the entirety of the NFL decides to follow Christ, that’s great for the Kingdom of God. But it doesn’t let the rest of us who follow Jesus off the hook. We are still responsible for living out a life of faith in our workplaces and neighborhoods, families and communities. If a professional quarterback says the name of Jesus on national TV, I still have to go to work the next day and try to love the person I don’t like very much. (Or to church the next Sunday, let’s be real.)
I feel like I need to say this, too:
God doesn’t love you more if you win the Super Bowl. God doesn’t love you less if you lose the Super Bowl.
God doesn’t love you more if you say His name on national TV. God doesn’t love you less if you say His name as a curse.
God doesn’t love you more if you do great big things in His name. God doesn’t love you less if you do tiny unnoticed things in His name.
When I read the Bible, I find that Jesus loves people. He loved the whole world before the world even knew who He was. He loves us when we’re faithful. He loves us when we’re unfaithful. He is the father watching eagerly for his son’s return. (You are the son or daughter.) He is the shepherd seeking the sheep that has wandered off. (You are the sheep.)
He is the God of the victors and the God of the losers, and I wish there were more stories of praising Him in the losing times. Maybe there are and I just haven’t seen or heard them. I’ll gladly share those stories because it’s too easy to believe that God only loves the winners. Or that if my life isn’t working out right that it must be because God is displeased with me.
Atheists win football games. Christians lose football games. There’s a worldwide sporting event coming up in the next few weeks and people of all kinds of faith traditions will win medals, break records, and perform at the peak of their event. People of all kinds of faith traditions will not medal or break a record or perform in such a way that network TV notices.
I hadn’t thought of this until just now, but I wonder if this is the Chariots of Fire syndrome. Do we assume that because Eric Liddell refused to race on Sunday that he won the gold medal in an event he wasn’t used to running as a show of God’s favor? I don’t know. That’s an inspiring story, for sure, but it is not a blueprint for God’s work in people’s lives.
I’ll say it one more time: Not every victory is God’s reward and not every loss is His punishment.
We are called to be faithful people, no matter the outcome, and while, yes, we can rejoice with a team of football players who profess our same beliefs, we should not assume that this is always how God will work. Or that it is the only way He can work. I would suspect there are other stories of God at work in the NFL. (I shared this story as one example of how faith lived out in two lives can look radically different.)
Enough said about the Eagles and their Super Bowl win. I’m a Chicago Bears fan and we had nothing to celebrate this year except the merciful end of the football season. Eagles fans, I hope you cherish this victory for many weeks and months to come. And that if you are a person of faith, you do the work set before you, whether you win or lose.