One weekend, our church softball team entered a double-elimination tourney. We lost our first game. Another loss would send us packing.
However, we surprised everyone by winning our next three games. Following our third win, a player from another team (not one we had defeated) asked me how we were doing. “Great!” I said. “We just won our third game.” With no hesitation and with great enthusiasm, he shouted, “Praise the Lord!” I wanted to ask him if he had a message from God for the losing teams. The only logical response, in my humble opinion, would have to be, “Praise the Lord, you lost.”
Over the years, I have heard hundreds of similar responses, that is, giving God credit for wins, and remaining silent or complaining about losses.
Another example: It happened at a U.W. football game. The Huskies trailed. The clock was running out. Time for one more play. The quarterback faded back for a long, long pass. He flung it as far as he could, hoping that the football and the receiver would connect. They did. The Huskies won. The quarterback gave all the credit to “Divine Intervention”.
His response bothered me, as it always does when God, supposedly favors one team over another. I agree with Steve Largent, who declared years ago that God doesn’t care who wins or loses an athletic event. R.A. Dickey, the great knuckle ball pitcher, during a crisis in his life and career, puts God and prayer in the proper order. He doesn’t pray for a no-hitter or a shut out. “That would be tantamount to me [my] playing God, choosing the outcome I want and asking God to rubber-stamp it.” Instead, Dickey gets it right by praying “your will for me, no matter what the outcome.”
I wrote to the quarterback. I was, and still am, curious to know God’s message to and for the losing team. I have received no response.
I began to listen more carefully to ballpark- and beyond-ballpark-conversations. I observed that some athletes praise the Lord when they hit safely, make a sensational play, win a game. Not once have I heard a “Praise the Lord, I lost because the other athlete out-played me.” or “Praise the Lord we lost; because by losing, we learned more about life, and humility than if we had won” or, “Praise the Lord, I struck out, the pitcher had my number.”
Of course, all of this is silly talk, useless game-playing. Yet we play the game when we insist that God chooses sides. How gladly we praise God when life goes our way, and then complain when life turns sour or bitter. “How often do you return to the scene of the whine?”
I urge us to think and act carefully when we invoke God’s presence. This “God’s-on-our-side-mentality has led to the death of millions of people who look, act, speak, think differently from us. (Read about the death of the innocent in the Inquisition, the Civil war, burning of “witches,” violence toward African Americans, Native American, women, gays, or people we don’t like or even know — many of those killings “in the name of the Lord.” “My God is bigger than your God,” we boast. I suggest that we take a long hard look at “I” before “I” goes around claiming God as our private and soul possession. We too easily forget the reality that “all persons are created equal”. Every opinion is important. We are not superior to the child who died of hunger today. We are not inferior to the multi-billionaire who has everything this world can offer. As humans, we meet each other eyeball-to-eyeball.
If we fail to learn that truth, we miss life’s greatest lesson. Because “all of life is Holy Ground”, so watch where you’re stepping.” Watch what you’re thinking, watch where you’re going. “The dilemma belongs to us, not to the Creator.” So are we on God’s side?
Wayne Keller, a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.