By Patrick Scriven | Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministry
“Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you,
and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!”
It is often noted that the Psalms offer an eclectic mixture of theology and an honesty that can be equal parts refreshing and disturbing. Case in point, Psalm 109 details a terrible list of curses that one can only hope tells us more about the psalmist’s angst than it does about the actual character of God. We should be thankful that, more often than not, people don’t take these rhetorical flourishes too seriously; and remain troubled by the times they do.
Where the Psalms offer a glimpse into the prayer life and practical theologies of the psalmist(s), we might say that the true character of our faith community can be discerned from the hymns we sing and the way we pray. We are all capable of using words and concepts which don’t represent God well, especially when we are trying to process a personal crisis or respond compassionately to the grief of others. And most churches still sing a song or two that the pastor cringes their way through praying that someday no soul will ever need to sing Onward Christian Soldiers again.
Our best hope is that the weight of what we say, sing, and do, presents a vision of God that honors the best of what we believe.
The NFL playoffs have made it an exciting time to live in the Seattle area. The fan base, or 12th man, is hungry for a Superbowl trophy and the NFC Championship win over the 49ers will only ramp up the hype. Despite our excitement for the team we root for on Sunday afternoons, what do the weight of out acts of NFL devotion say about the God we worship on Sunday mornings?
Let me confess that I may think too much about what we communicate theologically.
I worry about the cavalier way some fans and players publicly pray to God for a win. I worry about how quickly folks declare God’s will when their team wins or loses. I worry about our church’s pedagogy when the local big box church interviews the Christian players on the team, not so subtly suggesting that their faith is the secret ingredient that will bring home those cherished rings.
We all saw how good this spiritual hype thing worked for Tim Tebow and the Jets. 1
It is only fair to recognize that a lot of those who offer such prayers do so with a certain amount of levity. They don’t really mean it. After all, the NFL is just a game, right?
But life is great at throwing us penalty flags. One moment we’ll be celebrating a fantastic football win and the next we may be dealing with the loss of a child. Does our theological levity makes it easier for people to assume the wrong things about God during those bad times as well?
Are we missing pedagogical moments that matter? Even worse, are we communicating false impressions of God that can actually cause deep harm?
After all, what kind of God would intervene to help a football team win while allowing senseless violence in our children’s schools? Whose God delivers the Hail Mary pass while neglecting to protect innocents from terrible natural disasters? What can we say about the God who says “It is Good” to our team’s game winning field goal but won’t offer the same help to the young couple experiencing another miscarriage? And how far down the slope does one need to slip to accept that the God who stands with the Seahawks always stands with the United States regardless of what we might do?
Prayer isn’t a system to make requests of a benevolent deity. Prayer is one of the most public ways by which we communicate our theology. How we pray defines the character or our communities and it defines our beliefs about God.
There was an moment in the 4th Quarter of the NFC Championship game that presented an interesting moral quandary. Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman forced a fumble while defending the goal line. His knee is seriously injured as players pile on and the officials rush in and errantly declare a Seahawk possession. The Niners are unable to challenge the play, which is truly unfortunate as replays show Bowman had the ball securely in his hands as he hit the turf. What will the Seahawks do?
On the next play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson botches an easy handoff to running back Marshawn Lynch who bobbles and inevitably fumbles the ball leading to a Niners recovery. The skeptic in me imagines that they just screwed the play up. Some of my friends suggested it was akin to karma or divine intervention. The believer in me would like to think that it was a faithful and deliberate action by Wilson and/or Lynch to bring a little “justice,” as the announcer would define it, to a terrible situation.
You see, that is how I know and experience God at work in the world. While some believe God reaches down regularly to magically intervene in people’s lives, I see miracles in the actions of faithful people who put conscience in front of convenience, and concern for the welfare of others before their own comfort. We may have seen this in an unforced turnover yesterday. Then again, maybe not.
I must admit, there is something refreshing and raw about the honesty we find in the Psalms. And there is something tempting about calling upon God’s favor for something you are passionate for. But before we do, let’s think for a moment about what our prayers, and actions, communicate about our true character and beliefs about God. After all, it may be the one time that someone is listening.
Photo: Mark Runyon | Pro Football Schedules
1. Click here for a less obnoxious example of a Christian athlete. Thanks Jill! Be warned in advance Seahawks fans, it’s Peyton Manning.