On September 9th I became philosophical about football. I don’t know what caused it. I was thinking about the game and suddenly it dawned on me that football is a game that when considered through the Christian lens should cause us to ask a lot of questions. These are some of the topics that came to mind:
Does God care about football? Is there anything in his created order that he ignores completely? How can we know that God has no interest in the outcome of football games, even if for reasons different than our own? How do these questions relate to broader questions concerning God’s sovereignty over events in the world as well as questions regarding human freedom?
How can we as Christians who follow the teachings of a non-violent Christ find enjoyment in a game that creates a culture of violence? Is the physicality of football redeemable? Are there forms of acceptable violence?
Does the NFL infringe on Sunday as a holy day for Christians? Is it idolatrous to skip a worship gathering to go to watch football?
How should Christians think about the money system of the NFL? Is it just for people to make so much money playing a game?
Does the NFL teach us anything about race? How should we think about race relations in the NFL as juxtaposed with the church? Is it odd that Sundays are the most segregated day of the week in churches but people of various races could care less who sits next to them to watch the game? Why is this? Also, should the Redskins change their name? The Chiefs?
Some people may brush off these questions. “It’s just a game.” “Enjoy it, don’t over-think it!” But games matter to people (we fill stadiums with thousands to watch these events) and if the unexamined life isn’t worth living that includes our past times!
Football can be a petri dish. Many people go through their day without thinking about whether or not their near-miss car accident was mere chance or an act of God, but when Tim Tebow and other religious athletes thank God for their performance or their team’s victory of even something as simple as “the opportunity” that God is giving them to play the game then one has to ask: Does God care about football? If the universe is connected somehow does God interfere in football games in order for the cause-and-effect of space and time to result in this or that. For example, we’ve seen the movie Angels in the Outfield where a boy prays that God would help the Angels win because his father had said that his family would come back together if the Angels win the pennant. The sons takes it literally, prays, and the angels come to help the Angels. The outcome of sports becomes secondary to the impact of the outcome: namely, a restored family…or so the boy prays.
Obviously Christians hold to a variety of views along a wide spectrum regarding what it means for God to be sovereign in the universe. Does he dictate everything? What about human will? Are there intermediary agents like angels who impact the events of this earth?
Other questions are more ethical: Should Christians watch a sport where people are physically harmed? What is the difference between a linebacker smashing a quarterback into the turf and watching too people beat on each other in the street? Are there acceptable forms of violence? Should we use the word “violence” to describe the physicality of football?
What about the NFL’s decision to play on Sundays–a day traditionally reserved for common worship among Christians. Does it distract? Is it an idol as my childhood pastor would preach?
What about the choice to continue using names and mascots that make a cartoon our of Native Americans? Redskins? Chiefs? Would we find this acceptable if there were teams named after whites, blacks, or Latinos that had these same allusions?
I could go on and on…and I’d be happy to chat about these topics in the comments. Hopefully the next few days will bring you the opportunity to read a few thoughts from others who like football and who try to view the world as Christians! I hope you’ll come back, read, and interact!