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Did God decide the Super Bowl?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh congratulates his brother and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh after the Ravens defeated the 49ers to win the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game in New Orleans (Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

Sunday’s Super Bowl is fast receding into the realm of “yesterday’s news.”  However, I’ve written today’s essay before the game was played, as I’m out of the city and without Internet access for a few days.  Before we move on to other subjects, I wanted to comment on one more facet of the big game.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 27 percent of Americans think God plays a role in determining the winner of a sporting event.  However, nearly twice that number, 53 percent, believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.

Here’s the problem God had on Sunday: both coaches are strong Catholic Christians.  Complicating things further, they are brothers, products of the same godly home.  Which team was God to reward?

Further complicating the assertion that God rewards Christian athletes is the fact that many Christian football players have never won the Super Bowl.  Cris Carter, Bruce Matthews and Steve Largent come to mind.

Cris Carter, named one of the 50 greatest players in Minnesota Vikings’ history, never won the big game.  His faith was very strong and public: “I now have a purpose in life, and it is to use the platform I have been given to glorify the name of God.  God calls me to be truthful, to be frank and to step out in faith.  I am committed to using my influence and my resources for His glory.”  Bruce Matthews, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, never won the Super Bowl, either.  His testimony is clear: “All that really matters is knowing Jesus.  Everything else is secondary at best.”  

So, does faith make a difference in the circumstances of our lives?  Does prayer change things?  What does God do when fans of the 49ers and Ravens each pray that their team wins, or a golfer prays for sunshine while a farmer prays for rain?

My prayer does not inform an omniscient God of my need: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).  It does not force an omnipotent God to do what I want: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).  It does not persuade a loving God to do the right thing: his will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

So why pray and trust God?  Because prayer and faith position us to receive what our omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving Father intends to give.  Is God waiting on your next prayer?