Monday, February 2, 2015

When God's team loses the Super Bowl

The Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, and for all true fans it was quite the disappointment. There was controversy about the play calling -- for what it's worth, I'm not sure it was a poorly chosen play, so much as simply excellently defended -- and some persons seem to have been quite deeply affected by it all. To my mind, the Seattle Seahawks have the best chances of any team of making another appearance in the big game, since all the major pieces of their offense and defense are still under contract for at least another season. Playing for redemption and revenge will certainly help, too. I don't take this loss too seriously, then; certainly I am not as deeply upset and crushed as I was during the 2006 loss to the Steelers.

I want to consider a theological question in light of the team's loss. What does it mean when God's team loses the Super Bowl?

I made a joke --  okay, a half joke -- on Facebook after the NFC Championship Game that the Seattle Seahawks were clearly God's favorite football team. For this reason they are destined to victory in the Super Bowl, or at least so I thought. It turns out, however, that God's team lost. Does the loss invalidate their election by God, or might it be possible that God wants us to lose at times?

I am not joking about the fact that the Seattle Seahawks are God's team, at least in this sense of the phrase: there are a good number of players on the Hawks, Russell Wilson and others among their ranks, who are (as far as I can tell) believers in God. They thank him for the talents that they have and the opportunities he has given them to make use of them for their own enjoyment, to earn a living, and to bring joy to others. They are convinced that God is an active participant in their games in some way, and they thank God for favorable turns of the game. I know that God loves these players and wishes to conform them to Christ's image even through their experiences as football players.

But it would be naive to think that God's team must always win. A short and cursory read through the Bible would quickly disabuse us of this notion. Very often God's chosen people suffer and face hardships. The prophets find their message rejected by the people, who then go on to kill them. The people of Israel are taken out of slavery in Egypt but suffer hunger and thirst in the desert. Sometimes the evils which befall them are deserved because of sins, and other times there is no such suggestion. Sometimes -- say, in the case of Hannah, the mother of Samuel -- it would seem that God intentionally permits them to undergo hardships and trials because it is a part of his greater plan.

So it is perfectly possible for God's team to lose the Super Bowl. There are lessons to be learned in losses, just as much (if not more!) than in wins. In a loss such as this one, which ended with a brawl after a frustrating interception and an ejection of at least one player, God may have wanted to teach our Seattle Seahawks a bit about character and accepting defeat; he shows them who they are, so they know what they ought to work on. It may be that God wants them to learn to suffer and to hurt, too, and not only to be victorious and conquer, so that they can empathize with others. In light of the imminent birth of Richard Sherman's first son, it may be that God wants him to see things in a different light, on the field and off.

I don't know exactly why God wanted the Seahawks to lose. It may be a different reason for each player. In any case, the point is this: God makes use of losses as much as wins, both in the lives of athletes and in the lives of ordinary Joes such as ourselves, to teach us and to transform us. We ought to look at our losses and failures as opportunities for growth, for learning more about ourselves and where we need to change. Our losses do not mean we do not belong to God; as St. Anthony says, everything happens to us by God's providence, just as it should and for our own sake. We need simply to open our eyes and learn even from losses, though we cannot enjoy them.