This post is a terrible idea.
As with all terrible things, this post began on Twitter.
Lawrence Cager had an incredible game against Florida. He had 7 catches for 132 yards, one of which was the game-winning touchdown.
Sometime after the game, Cager, obviously feeling blessed, tweeted the following:
Man if you don’t believe in GOD idk what to tell you https://t.co/pmjvGS7Rpy— Lawrence Cager (@lawrencecager3) November 3, 2019
You can’t see the video because it has been deleted but it was the clip of him breaking wide open on the wheel route and catching the game-winning TD pass from Jake Fromm in the 4th quarter of the Florida game.
So, if I can put my Professor Hat on right quick, the basic claim here seems to be that his touchdown catch is evidence for the existence of God and, moreover, that disbelief in God, when confronted with the evidence of Cager’s touchdown catch, is a bit obtuse. I’m trying to be fair, but I feel like that’s the argument.
Well, Cager put that out there into the world and, as things go on Twitter, some of his followers piled on. One follower in particular might be someone you recognize:
So Fromm, as any good teammate should be, is down to ride or die for this theological proof of God’s existence.
Look, if I could heave the rock like Jake Fromm I would probably also think that my TD passes were proofs of the existence of God too, but that’s not the point.
The real point is: did God really help Georgia beat Florida last Saturday?
Some concerned members of twitter have already posed this question to Jake:
With all due respect, why did God let that loss vs. South Carolina happen?— Anne Marie Morgan (@therealAMB) November 3, 2019
This is indeed a proper theological response. It is like the philosopher Epicurus once said: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?” If God was so on the side of the dawgs he sure seems to have taken a day off when the Cocks came to town.
But, as with all things, Twitter has a riposte:
Because sometimes u learn more from losing then winning— Chris Reynolds (@Chrisrey8606) November 3, 2019
Ah, the classic “Soul-Making” reply to the Problem of Evil, first articulated by St. Irenaeus of Lyon but popularized by Protestant theologian John Hick.
God let that evil happen to help us grow in righteousness! We needed the knowledge gained by going through that sort of hardship to become the sorts of people we are meant to be.
It all makes sense.
Ok sure, you say, this is all well and good, but is there any actual evidence that God was involved in our win?
ALLOW ME TO PRESENT TO YOU EXHIBIT A-Z:
You can just imagine some youth pastor in Florida opening his sermon tonight like: “Florida had some issues with timeouts this week huh? Timeouts are important. Let me tell you about the most important timeout you can take—time out of your day to meet with the Lord...”
So if we’re looking beyond the Cager catch for evidence that God might have been involved in the outcome of Saturday’s win over Florida, maybe we should also look at the strange confluence of events that lead Mullen and co. to wear the wrong play call armbands during the first quarter.
Jesus Christ might not be able to hit a curve ball, but he can recruit at a high level. Dan Mullen should learn from that is what I’m saying.
Ok, that concludes the joking part of this blog.
Not to be self-involved (seriously), but I’m a Christian theologian. That’s my day job. I’ve got a Ph.D. and everything. I write here for fun and for booze money and because I love this site and have read it for years.
One of my areas of research is the relationship between Christian theology and sports—WAIT, before your eyes glaze over and you click away HANG WITH ME.
There is actually a whole lot of conflict out in the “theology of sport” world about whether or not God controls the outcome of sporting events. I put out my take the other night:
Apropos of nothing, nothing at all---(Def not tweets from a few athletes that play for the team I follow or anything. Def not that)---God does not control the outcome of sporting events. Or, if God does, it is impossible to say how, which part, or why.— smif (@jasonisasmith) November 4, 2019
If you’re at all interested here is the theology behind both of the two options I put out in this tweet.
The first one comes from a guy named Lincoln Harvey. I’ve mentioned him in pieces I’ve written in the past. His idea is really interesting and kinda controversial. He says that sports ARE NOT controlled by God at all. In fact, they are one of the few areas of the world not under God’s “control.” He calls sports the “liturgical celebration of our contingency.” We aren’t secretly worshipping God when we play sports. We are actually celebrating us. We are celebrating the pure chaos and stupidity of human existence. God lets us do this without any interference.
So God doesn’t pick who wins the Super Bowl. God didn’t direct the ball into Cager’s hands. God didn’t okie-doke the Florida coaching staff into having the wrong armbands on.
God leaves sports to us.
This idea makes Christian folks uncomfortable.
Implying that God isn’t in control of one particular part of the world seems to imply that there are other areas of the world where God might also not be in control. If God isn’t in control of every aspect of every sporting even then how can I be sure that God is in control of the shape of my life? the shape of human history? the shape of the cosmos? If you can prove that God isn’t shaping the outcomes of these dumb games, don’t you risk implying that God might not be in control of anything at all?
Most Southern evangelical Christians would want to search out Scripture at this point and there is indeed one verse that merits particular attention. Proverbs 16: 33 says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision from the Lord.” Casting lots is a biblical phrase for something like drawing straws. More complicated than that, more ritualized than that, but the same basic idea—you are doing this random thing that seems to be left completely to chance but in fact GOD IS IN CONTROL OF ALL OF IT.
That’s an ok thing to believe I guess, but, at least in my professional opinion, we should be careful.
One of the most important things I learned in Div School is that God does not, strictly speaking, “exist.”
That does not mean that God is not real, mind you, but just that God does not “exist” in the same way that we do. God is not a thing among other kinds of things. We can’t learn about God by comparing God to other stuff.
Yes, you might say, God is bigger than all the stuff in the universe!
And I would say, yes, but be careful because it is not about being “bigger” per se. God is not really “bigger” than anything because that is to make God just another kind of thing, a sort of thing whose size we can compare with the size of other, similar sorts of things.
A common religious way of expressing this idea is that God is as far from us as the ends of the entire universe but as close to us as our breath.
Indeed, God is the only being, for lack of a better word, that can do this. God can be “bigger” than the galaxy and yet be present within the tiniest piece of bread.
Now this same insight can be applied to how God “acts” within the world as we know it. God acts on an entirely different level—an entirely different “causal plane,” to put a fancy academic turn of phrase on it—than we do. Our actions in the world are always in competition with other created beings’ actions, whereas God’s actions are above all that.
God could, theoretically, be entirely in control of every action while still allowing for all of our actions to be of our own choosing.
That’s a really hard idea to express and for those of you who don’t answer the question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” with “God!” I know all of this can sound like nonsense.
But for those of us who believe in God and are trying to figure out how God relates to the world, this can be a helpful exercise.
If God controls the outcomes of sporting events, and I’m not sure I agree that God does, then the nature of the “control” God has over them is damn well impossible for us to crack.
The most we can say is that God is not playing Madden in the sky when we play a game of football.
God’s control, just for the sake of accuracy, has to be something entirely foreign to the ways of control we humans are familiar with.
So did God help Georgia beat Florida?
But if God did, we really can’t say exactly how God did it.
That’s the best I can do. Beyond that, you’re on your own.