I did not expect this. But I will take it.
My Dallas Cowboys are 5-1. When I started my boycott of the NFL after Week 1, they were 0-1. Now, five weeks into my boycott, the Cowboys are 5-1. Five weeks of boycotting, five Cowboys’ wins. Coincidence?
I think not!
Naturally, lots of people are asking me if I’m mad that I can’t watch the Cowboys’ success because of my boycott. But they don’t get it. The Cowboys are winning because of my boycott.
Yes, I believe that God is honoring my boycott by blessing the Cowboys with this impressive five-game winning streak, including Sunday’s win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. In Seattle.
Obviously, I’m kidding. Maybe. I wish I could say that I’m totally, 100 percent kidding, but that wouldn’t be true. I actually sorta kinda believe that the Cowboys are 5-0 in their last five games because I decided to boycott the NFL.
This is terrible on multiple levels, but this is also why last Sunday was the hardest day so far to keep to my boycott. Aside from the Cowboys game, I joined in a send-off lunch at Taps for a guy on our small group, so NFL games were everywhere. Bad start. By the time we got home, I knew that the Cowboys and Seahawks were tied at 10. I was really, really tempted to track the game on my phone that entire afternoon and thereby intentionally break my boycott oath. There was a serious wrestling match happening in my soul. The allure of the NFL and the love of a team that 1) is surprisingly good this year and 2) I’ve followed since before I was born (true story) urged me to set aside my convictions and to enjoy this game.
I couldn’t do it. I put down my phone and went outside to put up slats on our new fence. I couldn’t be near technology for fear of succumbing to my weak intestinal fortitude. This is the equivalent to what some Summitviewers refer to as “working in the garage,” except that I was actually avoiding temptation instead of responsibility. And I also kinda sorta believed that if I didn’t check the score all afternoon, the Cowboys would win.
It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, right?
Bud Light’s campaign is genius because almost every sports fan has been there. By watching (or not watching) a game, by wearing the right shirt, by praying, by brokering deals with God, we think something about our existence in the vast expanse of the universe will impact the outcome of a sports game in our favor. Which is ridiculous. But is it anymore ridiculous than how sports-minded evangelicals interpreted the series of events around Tim Tebow in the 2011-2012 season? In my situation, my integrity has been so exemplary that the God of the universe has felt compelled to pull the strings in such a way to grant my favorite team with five straight wins.
This is what’s so great about being a sports fan. This is what’s so stupid about being a sports fan. And if we’re not careful, this is what can taint the way we interact with God.
If, at some level, you and I really believe that we can help sway the outcome of an NFL game, what would stop us from thinking this about our relationship with God? “God, I didn’t look at porn today, so please give me that job I applied for last night.” “God, I have had a quiet time for two months straight, so I deserve to feel extra amounts of joy in my life.”
Does any of this sound familiar? We think our moral triumphs and displays of virtue warrant sweeping shows of affection and blessing from God. We’ve done x, so God had better reward me with y. In this theological framework, God is a Pez dispenser: All you need to do is apply the right amount of pressure and he’ll give you what you want.
It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, right?
The problem with this way of viewing God is that it’s overtly anti-gospel. It is justification by works. We don’t want God’s unmerited grace — we want to earn it. We want to show God how deserving we are of his favor and blessing. This is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches us about Jesus’ work on our behalf (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are unlovely and yet Jesus still died for us anyway (Romans 5:6). As David Wells observes, “… fallen human nature is always partial to the thought that is is able to commend itself to God.”
It is impossible to commend ourselves to God. That is why Christ came in the first place: We needed Someone to make us commendable to the Father.
Of course, the allure of this way of thinking about football games and God (or am I being redundant?) is that of control. My internal world and most of the external world are usually spinning way too fast for me and I desperately need something to provide a sense of stability and control over the swirling existential and/or material debris.
Lately, I have been anxious and easily discouraged, unmotivated and unsure of the future. So, by connecting the imaginary dots between my boycott and the Cowboys’ winning streak, I created a scenario where I felt strong and looked good. It was a coping mechanism. It wasn’t Tony Romo and Dez Bryant who won the game on Sunday: It was my boycott and my morality that secured that W. Likewise, when we need a “win” in life — a better job, more peace, more joy, more rounds of golf under 90 — we look to our moral track record to see what deal God will give us, to try to show him we’re worthy of better circumstances.
The thing is, all of life — from football to jobs to emotions — is in God’s hands. His very words keep the place open and running (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17). He’s a big God — but he’s not apathetically big. He’s right there in the atoms and in the deep, needy corners of our weak little hearts. I like how N.D. Wilson puts it:
He’s big enough that small doesn’t matter. … When one is infinite, one can enjoy two black holes arm-wrestling over a galactic snack, and an uncoordinated junior high quarterback struggling to escape an overweight junior high defensive end. Infinite goes all the way up and all the way down; and at every level, with equal attention, He creates with the full dose of His personality. …
He speaks and crafts every piece of matter woven into those scenes, and that is why they happen. His speaking is their happening.
Who do I believe God to be? If he is someone who must react to my moral highlight reel, then he’s not a God deserving of my worship and trust. My moral outbursts are not meant to bring God glory, but, rather, to get me what I want.
And if I would just stop preening for one second, I would realize that the things I want — rest, security, joy in the little things, confidence for the big things, an unshakable sense of being loved, true significance — are found in the Person upholding the quarterbacks and the fence posts and the oxygen molecules that I need to boast about how important my boycott is for the success of an NFL team.
God is great because he cares about me, because he sees me — my failures, struggles and insecurities — and still loves me anyway. God is great because he does listen to prayers, because he does take thought of us (Psalm 8:4-6), because he does care about the outcome of football games, because he is writing a better story than our self-seeking imagination could ever compose.
God is great because if he provides for the sparrow, he’ll also provide for you — provided you aren’t just interested in building your own kingdom. He may even provide your favorite team with an improbable winning streak.
Or not. He gives and takes away (Job 1:21; Habakkuk 3:17). What will your heart choose to say when the job application is denied, when your team misses the playoffs, when a hard decision doesn’t bear the fruit you hope, when things are out of control and disappointment reigns?
Will you revert to the “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work” anthem of pragmatic superstition? The thing is, that never works. Never has (Genesis 3:7), never will (Romans 8:19).
And thank God for that.