“And on the first of February, God took a load off, cracked open a six pack, and settled down to watch the Super Bowl.” Well, and why not? Most of the rest of us God-fearing Americans were doing the same. Even though, according to the latest survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, just over a quarter of us agree (completely or mostly) that “God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event,” surely the Almighty needed to keep an eye on the Big One.
Not to mention the one before. “That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special,” said devout Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson after redeeming himself with a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse that gave the Seahawks their come-from-behind win over the Packers two weeks ago. “I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day.”
Yesterday, the miraculous denouement was set up by another of Wilson’s passes to Kearse, this one knocked away by Patriots’ unheralded rookie corner Malcolm Butler, only to pinball around the wide receiver’s body until he gathered it in on his back at the four-yard line. Had earthly justice prevailed, the Seahawks’ Samson, Marshawn Lynch, would have smashed into the end zone and brought the Patriots’ dream of a fourth championship in this millennium crashing down on their heads.
That would have been a proper comeuppance for a team with a propensity to cut moral corners. But just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart when it was obviously in his interest to let the Israelites go, so, it seemed, God numbed Pete Carroll’s brain into calling for Wilson to force an inside pass. And there was Butler, stepping in and picking it off.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…and your young men shall see visions.” Saith Butler: “I just had a vision that, um, I was gonna make a big play.” Saith Jesus, “So the last shall be first.”
True it is that most American Christians believe that God “rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.” But as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, “The prayers of both could not be answered…The Almighty has His own purposes.”
One purpose could have been that the Almighty really doesn’t like people imagining that faith is so rewarded — and, as Job discovered, is prepared to go to some pretty cruel lengths to demonstrate the contrary. Another is that God takes pity on the undeserving. To paraphrase the end of the Book of Jonah, “And should not I spare New England, that great region, wherein are more than 14 million persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand?” Go Pats!