Football Jesus

There is an immense amount of football on the TV this month and the ‘God’ or Jesus of Football players continues to perplex me.   But recently I have found some relief!  A month ago something happened that I can not stop thinking about.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a game-winning touchdown in the end zone Sunday in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That night he used Twitter to say the most honest thing I have ever read!


I can not tell you how refreshing it is to hear Football Jesus get it trouble! He never gets blamed for anything. He gets all of the credit when things go well and none of the blame when things go wrong. This drives me absolutely crazy. This was like the Twitter version of the Psalms of lament where the psalmist cries out “where are you God?”

So Stevie Johnson pulls back the curtain and exposes the wizard! In one fell swoop he says the thing that we all were thinking and were too afraid to say.

On a little side note: have you ever noticed how we play the ‘God card’ in ways that are not exactly consistent?  If someone who you like (or think lives well) gets cancer, you may say that the Devil is attacking them.  If someone who you do not like (or do not think lives well) gets cancer, you may say that God is punishing them. It is a weird form of theo-poetics. We think that God is against people that we do not like and that the Devil is against people that we like.  When someone we like dies, I never hear anyone say “Jesus must have been mad at him.”

I am not OK with this view of God. I will be honest – I hate it. I have spent that last three years on my podcast deconstructing it.

Back to the main point: So when Stevie Johnson blames the God of Touchdowns – who usually gets the credit for people catching touchdowns but escapes all the blame from those who drop them – and it all comes up equal.

I have to admit, I hate that ‘God’ gets all the credit when things go well and none of the blame when things do not go well. So I am thrilled when someone blames Football Jesus when things go wrong. Not that I am glad when things go wrong… I wish that they did not… but they do and THAT is the point. Things go wrong! If we blame God or the Devil when they do, we saying something essential about the universe.  Is that what we mean to do?

It is not what I want to do any longer. I am glad for moments like Stevie Johnson’s tweet – while they may seem shallow or backward to some – they are theologically intriguing to me.
I am not a fan of crediting God for everything nor am I wanting to blame God for everything.

I want to get away from the Puppet-master view of God, the ATM prosperity gospel God and, while we are at it, the removed clock-maker view of God. These superstitious pre-modern views and these mechanistic modern views do not work. That is the beauty of pop-theology in sports! It helps us see the logical end of something boiled down too far.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ike
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 09:54:16

    I appreciate SJ’s gut honesty. He’s hurting and he says so to God. I think we have all been there.

    The challenge for me is to believe and know that God is good even when bad things happen to me and to the people I love.

    Job’s example is poignant here. After he lost his health, wealth and family he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV)

    Oh that my confidence wold be as great.

    Jesus’ cry “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” is also a challenge to me to be gut honest, to tell God how I’m feeling.

    Is it a coincidence that these words of his come from Psalm 22 which ends with words of confidence and faith? His own agony ends with resurrection and reign. It’s as if God is a puppet-master.

    It appeared that evil won, but instead was defeated! Jesus is victor!

    I’m not a follower of SJ’s or anybody’s tweets but I hope that he will soon experience God’s comfort and grace and will soon see the good that God will bring out of this.


  2. leadfromthefringe
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 17:07:18

    I really like how pastoral and caring your note is. I love that.

    We do have one significant difference however… I can in no way endorse the Puppet-master. I think we need to be careful about reading that into the end of Psalm 22…

    Let me throw out 3 ideas:
    Is it possible that the “Job view” of God was suppose to die on the Cross. That conception of God began to die when God became a man and “it was finished” when God gave his life – unjustly – for us. It is not just that Jesus died FOR our sins but also that he died BECAUSE of our sins.

    God did not abandon Jesus. When Jesus cries out (using Psalm 22) he is articulating his experience – expressing how he felt… not what was true.

    if one reads Romans 8 as : God works for the good with those who love him and are called. NOT that God cause the THINGS to work for us. It is GOD who works with us for the good. This allows us to leave behind the obsession that ‘everything happens for a reason.’

    Here is why I am saying this: that guy dropped a football in the endzone. Some times guys catch a football in the endzone. It is possible that neither is God’s doing?


  3. leadfromthefringe
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 17:17:15

    When philosophers of the last century said “God is dead” this is the God they were talking about… Job’s God. That God died in the gas chambers, in Hiroshima, and with the Gulag. I think that god was suppose to have died on the cross but that the POWERS resurrected him because those who hold that view makes good little obedient citizens who do what they are told 🙂


  4. Ike
    Jan 03, 2011 @ 23:40:34

    I think when philosophers say “God is dead” it is because they have looked at the stuff going on in the world and don’t understand how God fits into it, especially a good powerful God fits into it all. So they conclude “God doesn’t exist, God is dead.” But Job never said that. To him God was still alive and worthy to be praised even though he had difficulty understanding God at the time.

    I think the people of our age need to grow up and realize that though bad things happen, that’s not the end of the story and it doesn’t mean that God is dead, weak, sick, on a vacation or incapable. It sometimes feels that way, that God is distant but God is in control.

    Help me understand the idea that the Job conception of God was supposed to die. Are you saying that God’s revelation of self to the people as it was preserved and passed down to us is being replaced? Are you saying that we need to replace our interpretation of that revelation? Or are you saying something completely different?

    It is reported to us that Jesus kept telling the disciples that he is going to die, that he will rise three days later, then it is reported to us that it happened, just as he said. I conclude that God is in control. I don’t conclude that he was caught by surprise, weak unjust or incapable.

    I’m really not trying to be cheeky here, but is it possible that we, individuals, society, corporations and the devil are responsible for the evil we commit AND God is in control? Does it really have to be either/or?

    Furthermore, the fact that God is in control doesn’t mean that God is unfeeling or doesn’t care. That’s another lie of this age: “If God really loves me then…,” you fill in the blank.


  5. Rod
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 01:29:51

    The media somehow missed Pittsburg’s free safety Ryan Clark and his Twitter:



  6. leadfromthefringe
    Jan 04, 2011 @ 06:08:21

    Ike you bring up some GREAT stuff !! So here are a couple thoughts

    A) if we use the old dualism (which I do not like) then it is tough to make the case that ‘god’ is all loving AND all powerful. If ‘he’ is loving then ‘he’ is not all powerful and if ‘he’ is all powerful then ‘he’ is not all loving. These old dualism are a trap! that is why it becomes impossible (under Greek metaphysics) for the Incarnation to happen 🙂 IF god is THAT transcendent then it becomes impossible to be incarnate or immanent and thus we chalk it up to “mystery”.

    B) This ideas of God being ‘in control’ … it that like “sovereign”? Because a King is sovereign but not IN CONTROL of all that goes on in his kingdom…

    C) So the reason that I say Job’s god dies on the the cross – actually I have been writing a big essay on that – but here are my quick thoughts (5 of them)

    #1 God does not cause people to catch or drop touchdowns. That is not what God does. God is not pulling the strings behind the scenes.

    #2 God is not doing things TO people. This idea is dead. God partners with or calls to – this is not coercive but is instead persuasive – it is more seductive than dominant.

    #3 The idea that God is making deals with the devil to make people (like Job) cry “uncle” dies with Christ on the cross. Jesus died unjustly!! which leads to …

    #4 not everything happens “for a reason” Jesus did not only die FOR our sins but BECAUSE of our sins. We have to get rid of this obsession of ‘everything happens for a reason’. It doesn’t. Unless you mean sin, that explains somethings. But stop blaming God.

    #5 WWII: The Christian Germans and the non-Christian Japanese make it impossible to draw clean lines between the “Good guys” and “Bad guys”. Victims and oppressors got all messed up in the 20th century. The Christian Orthodox Serbians in the Bosnian war would be another example.

    You are bring up GREAT things. Thank you – you are really helping me think through some BIG stuff. Looking forward to your thoughts


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