On January 16-20 (2013), the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a random telephone survey consisting of 1,033 adult participants. They asked respondents what role (if any) God “plays in determining which team wins” - in regards to sports. Its interesting to look at polls such as these to get an idea as to what the populace believes or holds to be true. In light of the derived statistics - PRRI’s CEO, Robert P. Jones, thinks the numbers are "significant” and show that “Americans see a divine hand at play”. Jones goes on to say that the statistics show that Americans believe in a “very active God”.
To provide some context for the numbers that the poll extracted from the sample group, categories and groups were fabricated. Participants responded to the idea that God plays a role in determining which team wins. The following are a reflection to those that agree accordingly;
Americans - 27%
South - 36%
Midwest - 28%
Northeast - 20%
West - 15%
Nonwhite Christians - 40%
Evangelicals - 38%
Catholics - 29%
Mainline Protestants - 19%
From looking at the data derived from the poll, we can say that over one quarter of Americans believe in a God that plays a role in determining the outcome of events. The numbers, after all, support this statement. We can also say, however, that a little less than three-quarters of Americans deny the belief in a God that participates in determining events. From the data, we may not be able to say that Americans completely deny God’s sovereignty. They may believe, for example, He is sovereign and can determine outcome but chooses not to, via; leaving matters to a person’s free will, leaving matters to chance, etc. There is, after all, a difference between not bringing matters to pass because you choose to omit your will and not bringing matters to pass because you don’t have the power to do so. Regardless of the explanation, God is not in complete control if He allows something to come into creation in a means outside of His determination. From the results gathered from PRRI’s poll, however, this is exactly what God does according to 73% of Americans. More succinctly or in other words, 73% of Americans deny the sovereignty of God in the greatest degree.
If we are to get a true picture about God’s sovereignty and not look at matters through rose colored glasses, we must earnestly seek the truth. We may be tempted by the powers of cognitive dissonance but we must resist dishonest persuasion that distorts our window into the world. Regardless of how honest we wish to be, however, we all view and interpret through our own worldview. The same as the Pharisees had a vision of the Messiah and clung to it all the while hating Jesus, we have a view as to how we perceive God. Everyone does it. We fashion a god of our choosing that meets our likeness if we are left to our own predisposition. We may not even cognitively realize we’re doing this at the time we’re doing it. The world after all, encourages us to do it. How often, for example, have we heard, the heart does not lie? The implication being we can draw upon truth from the heart and ultimately, we can trust it. Placing blind trust in the heart is not, however, a prescription found when examining scripture.
When it comes to discovering a doctrine of sovereignty, we aren’t going to find the answers through statistics, our world view or through an examination of our heart. Depending on which version you read, Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is sick/wicked/deceitful (KJ,NASB, NLT). Its ironic that Pilot asked Jesus, “What is truth ?” (Jn 18:38) all the while, he was seeing it in the flesh with his own eyes (Jn 14:6). Truth can be staring at us in the face but if we don’t have eyes to see it, it will escape us nevertheless. So not only can we not trust our heart, we can’t even necessarily trust what we see with our own eyes, even our first hand experiences may be delusional. If our heart and eyes can fail to be effective tools for extracting truth, how much more fallible are the idols we make and fashion after the desires of our heart that is ultimately influenced by what we see and feel? We can’t place our trust in the golden calves that we fabricate as a means to be pleasing to ourselves. His word is truth (Jn 17:17) so it is in His word we must seek the truth. We must leave behind our presuppositions and look to God inspired scripture that is good for teaching (2Tm 3:16).
For your viewing pleasure, behold some verses that attest to the sovereignty of God. As a way to establish organization, I’ve grouped them into broad categories:
Disclaimer - In no way is this list intended to be totally comprehensive but to provide a first hand illustration with how the subject matter is addressed in scripture.
God does as He pleases/He works in the counsel of His will:
Psalm 115:3 But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
Isaiah 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.
Proverbs 16:9 A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
Ephesians 1:11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
Genesis 39:3 And his master saw that the LORD [was] with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof [is] of the LORD.
Jn. 3:27 A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
Psalm 33:11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
Acts 4:28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
1 Sam. 2:6-7 The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.
Job 1:1 And Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Isaiah 45:6,7 There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well being and creating calamity [Lit.,"ra", evil]. I am the Lord who does all these.
Daniel 2:21 And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding.
God’s will stands/cannot be frustrated/cannot be thwarted:
Proverbs 19:21 Many plans are in a man's heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.
Daniel 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and He does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
Exodus 4:11 And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?
Isaiah 14:24 The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand,
Isaiah14:27 For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?"
Lamentations 3:37 Who [is] he [that] saith, and it cometh to pass, [when] the Lord commandeth [it] not?
Psalm 33:10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
To deny the sovereignty of God is to deny what we know to be true as found in scripture. From the scripture previously listed, we see that God does whatever He wants as it is purposed after the council of His will. The Lord gives and He takes away. He places kings on their thrones and alters the courses of nations. Everything we have is from Heaven above. Our abilities as well as our prosperity come from God. Even the wicked have been made for the day of evil according to His will. This does not mean God makes people sin but allows them to act according to their own nature to accomplish His purposes the same as He loosened the leash on Satan so that he could attack Job. When Job persevered, he served his purpose in giving God glory. That’s the whole reason we were made after all, to give God glory (Is 43:7).
Scripture in of itself, however, will not necessarily yield a correct doctrine of sovereignty. When the devil tempted Jesus, he did so with scripture. Doctrine is holly and righteous but it can be corrupted by and through the teaching of false prophets or teachers. This is why we are warned about such things and told that we will know them (false teachers) by their fruit (Mt 7:16). God is spirit and He must be worshipped in spirit (Jn 4:24) and it is in this spirit, we receive His word (2 Pt 1:21). Paul told the Ephesians to be imitators of Christ and in doing this, they will avoid actions that are not fitting (Ep 5:1). If they live with a mind set that is in the spirit, they will seek the same things the spirit desires (Romans 8:5). It is in these matters that God uses His sovereignty to bring things to pass. Unfortunately, some people look to the desires of their own heart/nature that is influenced by sin and view the sovereignty of God in this context. They read verses like, “May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” (Ps 20:4) and think that God is bent on giving them the life they want. They neglect to see that He gives you these things when you delight in Him (Ps 37:4). To delight in Him means to want the same things He wants and what does He want? He wants to be our God and for us to be His people (Ex 6:7; Lv 26:12; Jeremiah 30:22), He wants us to obey Him and in this obedience, He wants us to love Him with all our heart and to love one another as we love ourselves (Mt 22:37-40); and He wants us to deliver the Gospel so that all who will believe, will become heirs in Christ (Mt 28:19, Rm 1:16, Rm 8:17). It is in His sovereignty, He has made provision to reconcile us to Himself through the blood of His Son but what does all of this have to do with sports?
Sporting exhibitions, like all things, exist within the confines of God’s sovereignty. Like all things, the outcome of games/matches will yield consequences. Like all things, the outcome delivered from a game can be used for the glory of God. Regardless of who wins a game, believe that His purposes have been fulfilled thusly. It may not be apparent to us at how these things work out in their full course but if it has come to pass, it has happened according to God’s will that guides events by His sovereignty. We can’t truly grasp the full measure of contingencies at play. Imagine, for example, the untold number of lives that are involved in a Superbowl game. Think about a million acts, that appear to be random, that have played out in order for the Superbowl to take place. God was involved in every act working out His purposes for His glory and for the good of those that love Him (Rm 8:28).
In our human nature, we want to win. If our team wins, we conclude that God must be for us or our team. Perhaps we believe our team won because we prayed for it and God is giving us the desire of our heart. God does answer prayers but let’s consider He doesn’t answer them in the limited terms we typically think of when we ponder such matters. What happens, for example, if two devout Christians pray for victory but one is praying for one team while the other prays for the other team? What is God to do?
Fortunately for us, God is beyond measure and with His ways being higher than ours (Is 55:9), He can manage to create magnificence from piles of rubble. God disciplines His children out of love (Hebrews 12:6). Even if a team of our choosing looses, do not think that God cannot make good come of it. In our carnality, we despise hardship. Our dearly beloved brother James, however, tells us that we are to consider it as joy when we face trials (Jm 1:2). It is when our faith is tested, that we will gain endurance that will complete us so we will lack for nothing (Jm 1:3-4). Even if we are being persecuted, it is happening inside of God’s sovereignty for the things they mean for evil, God means it for good (Genesis 50:20).
By now, there should be a picture of God’s sovereignty to behold. Some fear His sovereignty and perhaps they should, for it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). There will be a day when every knee will bow (Rm 14:11, Is 45:23, Philippians 2:10) and some will hear,'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' To anyone that is outside of God’s will, His sovereignty is a death sentence. Who can take comfort and solitude in that? There is, however, comfort, solitude and joy in the promise He has for those that repent and believe. His grace abounds and cannot be overcome by anyone’s life of sin so long as they come to know the Gospel. In becoming an heir in Christ, there is hope - even for the chief of sinners.
If there is hope to be found in God’s sovereignty, even for the worst of sinners, how much more hope is there for those who believe? In God’s sovereignty, we take comfort for the great Redeemer holds true to His covenant. The bride in Christ awaits for the appearance He will make as He executes His sovereignty and redeems those to whom He has bought with His life’s blood. For the believer, God’s sovereignty is something we can take comfort in. In our humility, we look to God in His sovereignty and stand in awe.
Does God play a role in determining which team wins? To the believer, perhaps a better question would be, what role does God play when determining which team will win? Considering the number of Americans that do not believe in an all sovereign God, perhaps we are being called to proclaim it for the world to hear. Its one thing for non-believers to be ignorant of God’s sovereignty but to look at the number of professing members in the faith to be just as ignorant is troubling, to say the least. The sheep should not have so much in common with the goats. Its possible that some in the pen are not really what they profess to be and its also possible that they are but have fallen victim to biblical illiteracy.
Virginia, you should know there’s not a Santa Claus but America, you should know there is an all sovereign God. If the Creator of the Universe has enough interest in His creation to know the number of hairs on your head and be concerned about five sparrows that are sold for two pennies (Luke 12:7), perhaps the same Creator will have as much interest in the actions being carried out by His creation – even as they participate in sporting events. If God does not exercise His sovereignty and determine the outcome of sporting events, then what is the alternative?
As mentioned previously, some may believe that God limits His sovereignty to leave room for free will or allows for matters to conclude by chance. Free will, however, is negated by and through the very nature of sports. Both sides desire to win and execute their free will to make the outcome agree with the desire of their will. Through untold variables, however, the outcome will materialize into reality in one form or another leaving one team the victor and the other the spoil. There are too many variables and factors at play for free will to determine the outcome. Intrinsic talent that each player has was given by God and no amount of training can make one achieve more than he is designed to accomplish. No amount of free will can alter the untold contingencies at play within the context of a game. If the star member, for example, is injured and can’t play in the next game then what is left of his free will? Human determination can only accomplish so much and cannot be compared to the breadth of God’s hand (Is 40:12). God’s sovereignty does not rest in the constraints of the human condition . Our spirit may be willing but our flesh is often weak (Mt 26:41). Paul tells us that he does things that he hates and doesn’t do things that he wants to do and by telling us this, he brings our attention to the battle between the spirit and the flesh. What becomes of free will when the spirit wills one way and the flesh wills another? What is free will to do?
While no one denies that people have a will and they maintain the ability to exercise it, James warns us about the matter. Its empowering to say we’re going to exercise our free will but James also tells us that such action is boasting and not only tells us not to do it, but to do so is evil (Jm 4:13-16). If its evil to say you’re going to go and do this and that tomorrow, how can it not be evil for a sports team to say we are going to win this game here today and that game tomorrow? If they are to follow James’ teaching, they will say, “If the Lord wills, we will win this game today and that game tomorrow.” If your victory is contingent upon the Lord’s will, then did He not influence the matter with His sovereignty? Without sovereignty, God’s will is rendered irrelevant.
In conclusion, most Americans deny the idea that God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events. Regardless of our worldview, truth can and should be found in scripture. Outside of faith in Christ and repentance of sin, God’s sovereignty is a death sentence to the non-believer but there is hope in His Gospel. If there’s hope for the lost, how much more is there for the saved? God’s sovereignty is a magnificent attribute that belongs to our Lord.
In God’s economy, He can bring Himself glory through sporting events. At the same time, He can also work matters out for the good of those that love Him. If God cares for two sparrows, how much more does He care about those involved in sports? Even in hardships, God can perfect our faith through sporting events the same as He can with anything else. God is all sovereign and His sovereignty reigns throughout His creation. The advent of sports coming through His creation does not negate the Creator, it only serves as another avenue for Him to exercise His sovereignty.
Look to scripture and see how it reveals the magnitude of God’s sovereignty and how it yields so much more than giving us the desires of our heart. We must deny the evil temptation to cast it to the side so that we can boast in our own feeble will. Take comfort in knowing that in God’s sovereignty, Christ redeems the elect with His life’s blood when they have faith in Him that they have gained from believing the Gospel. Victory is an analogy any sports aficionado can appreciate. God does determine the outcome of sporting events by granting victory to one team over another. He did after all, give us victory in Jesus. If He cares for us then why should He stop working for our good, even when it comes to our participation in sporting events? He doesn’t! Take comfort, God is at work, even in the Superbowl.