Does God Watch American Football?

"Tebowing" pose in Iowa City, IA by Alan Light

You don’t have to be into American football to know that this season a 24 year old named Tim Tebow is taking the field — and airwaves and blogsphere and Twitter — drawing unprecedented coverage (if you’ll forgive the pun) from sources as far flung as the BBC World Service. And not just for his unusual, but largely successful quarterback style– the discussion of which has a polarizing effect on sports fans.

Tebow is a devout Christian, born to missionary parents serving in the Philippines;  his mother persisted with her pregnancy despite a doctor’s advice to terminate what in his opinion, was a nonviable fetus. This anecdote was made into  a pro-life Super Bowl 2010 commercial by the special interest group Focus on the Family. Any of this may not be interesting unless you know the guy or like to talk religion.

But the reason that “Tebowing” is now a verb, sort of like “Googling” or “Liking” is because in the middle of one of the most secular places in America, the football field,  Tim persists in reminding anyone who is watching of his faith in God.  You don’t need to wait for the next game to see it: lots of others are taking a imitative if joking  knee, balanced with the opposite elbow, head bent in gratitude, in unlikely spaces  like the “planking” phenomena that swept teens recently. Tim goes to one knee after a winning play as fans, players, coaches, cheerleaders are disintegrating in glee. —

What’s he’s managed to do (besides win games for the Broncos) is bring faith and spirituality into everyday discussion. Let’s face it: while medicine might argue that prayer offers comfort to sick patients (and even healing properties) sports can hardly do the same. God and sports have a somewhat murky association: after all, would a supreme being choose sides on something as inane as a game? Wouldn’t an omnipotent deity have other pressing concerns, like say pedophilia or global warming?

But here’s the thing: the premise of Christianity, particularly the modern evangelical church from which Tebow hails, is that in fact God is concerned with the mundane details of each one of  the faithful. The hairs on our heads are numbered, the Bible says. When God is for us, no one can be against us. This would be comforting if it weren’t so confounding. If no weapons formed against us can prosper, then how come we can die?

The presence of evil in the world is perhaps the most common reason people reject the premise of a loving, present, attendant God, the kind of God who professes love but would also send a messenger to Earth and then stand by and do nothing as that messenger is crucified.The irreconcilable issue for many is the  wrathful capacity from the same entity who is supposed to be full of love. Because if God is so concerned with our day to day, even our hair, then why do bad things happen to good people? Wouldn’t we rather go all the way for a God who will protect and pamper us from any of life’s trials, like many of the prosperity gospel advocates?

In the absence of celestial answers, or the failure of God to materialize, we have only questions. And quarterbacks who give praise during remarks at press conferences or etch Bible references into the black streak just below their famous eyes, reminding us that we have unsettled business with faith.

The real proof of this particular person’s faith will be in the same moment that is it for any of us, famous or ordinary, if we can espouse the words of that afflicted example Job: “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”  What happens to our faith when the chips are down? That’s often when we need it most but find it the farthest from us. For Mr. Tebow, there are still a few more games to be played in this season, more chances to win, and as waiting in the wings to gloat remind themselves, opportunities to lose.

God may or may not be watching, but you can be sure many of the rest of us will be.

Including the man I share my home with, father of my child, otherwise a responsible and sane being known as a ‘husband’ whose obsession with American football means you’ll definitely find me on my knee — maybe both of them — Tebowing in gratitude the morning after the Super Bowl that the season has finally ended.

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