Every Tuesday in Touchdown Jesus, staff writers Cray Allred and Valerie Dunham engage with the popular and polarizing world of sports from a Christian perspective.

After escaping with a playoff win over the Vikings, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gave the on-field, postgame interview for the national audience. Wilson explained in a cliché that his team had won 10-9 because his teammates kept fighting. He left out the actual reason the Seahawks won: the Vikings missed a game-winning field goal from just 27 yards away.

I think Minnesota’s radio announcer captured the spirit of the victory better with his own defeated cliché. Sometimes, you’d rather be lucky than good.

Wilson, a devout Christian, had a small pop-theology spat with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers over whether God was invested and/or responsible for the outcomes between their respective teams. Most people roll their eyes when God’s favor is invoked in sports, and rightfully so. Sports are a perfect plane for working out our understanding of God’s transcendence and immanence with relatively low stakes. God did not send a fit of nerves for Blair Walsh—a phenomenal kicker whose earlier, more difficult field goals were the only points scored by the Vikings in that loss to the Seahawks—because he hates Walsh, the Vikings, and their fans. A sudden gust of wind would have been more theatric, were that the case.

But ubiquitous talk of “destiny” and “fate” betray an entirely irreligious or non-superstitious belief system for the modern thinking fan. Jokes about witch doctors and deals with the devil abound when a team like the St. Louis Cardinals enjoys a string of unlikely postseason success, but there is plenty of genuine resentment to go with those tongue-in-cheek explanations. Why should that fluke hit fall for them and not for us?

Is it silly to muse about the metaphysical implications of games? Not any sillier than Nick Saban’s pursuit to control every single on- and off-field variable in the social construct that is Alabama football. Alabama fans, cheering for a juggernaut short on charm, know better than their no-fun coach. Clemson fans certainly do. Aside from exciting, masterful play from both teams, the Tigers’ devastating loss to the Crimson Tide featured the rare magical flourish from Saban (a successful onside kick) coupled with a more common cruelty of big-game sports, the referee blunder. Saban is a brilliant football coach running one of the best college programs of all time, but every championship season requires some good fortune. Or the luck of a fool, if you’re bitter.

Speculating on how a sovereign God does or doesn’t exert influence on a leather ball spinning through the air doesn’t have to be a trivial waste of theological thought in the realm of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Instead, sports are a perfect plane for working out our understanding of God’s transcendence and immanence with relatively low stakes.

Vern S. Poythress argues in Chance and the Sovereignty of God that chance and probability, as we experience them, display God’s faithfulness and regularity working in harmony with his creativity. When we frame a team’s situation as “against the odds”, we make probability an enemy of sorts. But the weight of reality, that nine times out of ten the Hail Mary throw won’t work, is actually good. It’s good that the sun rises each morning, that the lightbulb in my well house should last through the winter, and that a team playing better than its opponent for 59 out of 60 minutes wins the game. God is faithful, and things work the way He orders.

But things don’t always work like Deist clockwork. As important as it is to appreciate the norms of God’s reign, exulting in His surprises is just as foundational to the faith. Every step in the march toward redemption is improbable, from parted seas to virgin conceptions to hardened sinners coming undone in their pew. It’s pretty cool when that sliver of hope, regulated by God, includes you. Your mother is among 1% of survivors of a life-saving surgery. Your team’s worst receiver is the .001% of players who catch the ball with their helmet in a frantic Superbowl-winning drive. Praise be to the God of surprises.

By the word of His power, Christ holds together both the mundane and the spectacular of this world. When we collectively invest in the single outcome of numbers on a scoreboard at the end of a timer, it’s just one of the infinite, unnoticed dramas unfolding all around us. We should be marveling more, not less, at His designs.

Image Credit: Joe Bielawa, cc