Who’s side is God on?
It’s a pretty cheeky question, isn’t it? I mean, it is supposed to be the other way around. “Who is on the Lord’s side?” Of late however it seems that this question is raging in at least two venues sports and politics.
If you follow pro football you know that a mediocre Denver Bronco team behind quarterback Tim Tebow, an outspoken Christian, has stumbled into the playoffs. During a seven game streak in mid-season where there were multiple last-minute comebacks for Denver wins, the sports nation was witness to many televised displays of Tebow bowing in prayers of thanksgivings after amazing wins. The phenomenon even had a name – Tebowing. Depending on where the commentators came from this was seen either as evidence of God’s blessing on this fine young man or the first steps to a dictatorial religious theocracy taking over the country. Left unnoticed was the fact that Tebow had always prayed after the games, win or lose.
Then Denver lost three straight games and Tebow did not play well. The commentators reversed and this was seen either with distress and anguish or cackling glee. At least one well-known atheist declared the losses to be proof that God did not exist. Tebow, to his credit, remained positive, preferring to speak about his faith than the controversy. This weekend Tebow and company take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose quarterback has had a more ignominious recent history, leaving not a few devout Christians and rabid Steeler fans with mixed emotions.
Then there is politics. The recent Iowa caucuses brought to national attention the views and votes of evangelicals. As always politicians are quick to invoke God in their pleas for votes but, if you go by the comments they make, it is pretty clear that the candidates are sure that God is a Republican. Less clear is which Republican He supports.
Again, commentators are ever-ready to blow this issue into hysterics. Either this is a desperate battle to save the soul of our country and assure God’s continued blessing or it is a nefarious scheme of a dastardly group of extreme Christians called “the religious right.” Either way the fate of the nation hangs in the balance.
Or not. I think it is pretty clear that God does not have a favorite football team. Nor does He have any particular rooting interest in the outcome of any single game. We can probably all agree that whether Tebow throws a winning touchdown or a game-costing interception this weekend says nothing about God, His power, His grace, and His sovereignty. We can, at the same time, applaud his public joy in proclaiming His Savior and root for him to lose if we want to. We can even, amazingly, not care what happens at the game.
It’s a little harder to be calm about politics because we strongly feel that there are political issues that matter to God. And we Christians have as much right as anyone else to desire that our political leaders share those values with us. I am always distressed and perplexed by the mystifying claim of some that, because our values are religious, they are somehow not welcome in the public arena.
But the converse is equally true. As a constitutional democracy atheists and agnostics have the same right in our country to ask leaders to share their values. Nor do I view the fact that they may at times win the majority as some sort of apocalyptic horror.
Both in Scripture and history we see amazing stories of what God has done in setting and circumstances that we are sure are devastating setbacks for the faith. As a missionary I’ve had personal experience of striving for what I am certain is God’s will to reach others only to suffer one of those devastating setbacks. Sometimes it is only apparent years later how God was glorified in that setback. In other cases, I am still waiting.
Here is one thing I feel certain of – God cares deeply and passionately about the flow of history and the people who make and live it. He is not indifferent or uncaring. In the smallest matter, even the outcome of a football game, He is watching and working. Not even the smallest matter in my life or yours is outside of His loving care.
Secondly, He is calling a people to Himself and building them in His image. Whether it is you, me, Tim Tebow or a presidential candidate He desires that we be holy and righteous. He takes joy in our desire to please Him, gives us grace when we fail and loves us without limit in either case.
Yet I am convinced that who wins the game or even the election is not central to God’s thinking at all. He is weaving together a tapestry of every failure, every success, every righteous act and every evil deed into a beautiful picture of His love, His holiness and His power. Politicians who are wrong, or even evil, can not detract from His glory; Christians who are brilliant and successful can not add to it.
Scripture is clear, His thoughts are far beyond our comprehension, our understanding is ‘in a mirror dimly.” Years ago a sweet missionary lady told me of a phrase she used all the time. It has become a favorite of mine. “Well, Lord, I confess I don’t know how what I am seeing glorifying you. But I trust you and love you and will wait for your grace and understanding.”