Does God pick the winners?

Seattle Seahawk players gather in the end zone for a pre-game prayer during game action at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 8, 2013. Photo: Icon Sports Media Inc. Seattle Seahawk players gather in the end zone for a pre-game prayer during game action at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 8, 2013. Photo: Icon Sports Media Inc.

When it comes to sports or anything else, we should pray for what we want, and trust God to give us what we need

Q: I’ve had some rather heated conversations recently with a Catholic friend of mine who is convinced that God has a hand in determining who wins sports games. Does God answer the prayers of athletes and fans who pray for a win? I personally don’t think God gets involved one way or another. What does the church teach about this question?

A: Thank you for your question. It certainly is one that was on the mind of plenty of people in the Northwest who watched the Seahawks’ NFC championship game against the Packers: Was it God’s divine intervention during the final minutes of the game that helped the Seahawks win? (Let’s just not think about the final minute of the Super Bowl.)

According to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of Americans (53 percent), sports fans (56 percent) and Catholics (65 percent) say that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success. About 1 in 4 Americans say that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event. Is this really the case?

Praying to God and asking him for things, what we call prayer of petition, is an essential and hopefully daily part of our relationship with God; we are creatures in need of the Creator’s grace and divine providence! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that in the prayer of petition “we express awareness of our relationship with God.” (CCC 2629) The belief that God hears and responds out of love to his children is at the heart of our understanding of God.

Scripture is filled with prayer of petition. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people, once freed from their captivity in Egypt, frequently petitioned God to give them victory over their enemies: “The Lord is a warrior, Lord is his name! … In your great majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you loosed your wrath to consume them like stubble.” (Exodus 15:3,7) The people asked God for things, and according to their belief and faith, they got results!

So, how are we to understand divine providence, which is simply God’s intervention in the world? Don’t we give thanks to God when we pray for an open parking spot and suddenly one opens up right before us? If God can open a parking spot when we ask, why wouldn’t he help us win a football game when we pray for that? To answer this, we have to be clear about what exactly divine providence is. The church teaches that “Creation has its own goodness
and proper perfection. … We call ‘divine providence’ the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection.” (CCC 302)

God desires all things to work toward the good, and we know that at the end of time all things will be restored to their good when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. (see Revelation 21:1) Until that day comes, we are all on a journey toward that end. God’s providence, either directly or indirectly (through our cooperation), is about helping us get there.

Does God direct or influence the outcome of sporting events when we ask him? If he does, it is not necessarily because we ask him but because he sees that request as something that helps us achieve the end for which we were created: happiness, goodness and perfection. God’s providence does not decide an outcome; rather, he gives individual souls what is best for them at each moment in view of their final destiny.

Should we pray for specific and concrete things and outcomes? Of course! But we have to trust that, whatever the outcome, even if it is the opposite of what we prayed for, it is truly for our good and a path toward the perfection and happiness God wants for each of us, his children.

May Christ’s peace be with you today and always.  

Northwest Catholic - May 2015

Father Cal Christiansen

Father Cal Christiansen is pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Mountlake Terrace. Send your questions for “Ask Father” to editor@seattlearch.org.

Website: www.nwcatholic.org/spirituality/ask-father