I stand amazed by the persistent notion that God routinely interferes in basketball games, or in any other sports, for that matter. Well-meaning athletes who believe one should give glory to God often express thanks for how God helped them win. When they lose, they sometimes wonder what lesson God had in mind by orchestrating the loss.
Yesterday the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team lost their bid to the 2012 Final Four when Kansas defeated them rather convincingly, 80-67. I cringed when I saw a feature headline midway through the News & Observer sports pages this morning: “Tyler Zeller takes tough loss with faith.”
I hoped the article would portray Zeller — by all counts a sterling young man of deep faith — as trusting God for daily strength despite the loss, perhaps expressing faith that one could learn from disappointment. I feared that he would blame God for the loss, while holding on to faith.
Fear defeated hope by a wide margin.
Zeller noted that his faith has gotten him through a lot of things and “is the reason I am who I am today.” Then he said, according to writer Caulton Tudor: “Everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why it is. I don’t. I may question why God put us in this situation, but at the same time, he has a reason for everything, so you just got to accept it.”
And all this time I thought the Carolina loss had something to do with Kendall Marshall being injured, Harrison Barnes going cold in the second half, and the Kansas Jayhawks playing really well and shooting lights out.
I don’t mean to come down on Zeller, who played his heart out and deserves a great deal of admiration. No doubt he has heard the “everything happens for a reason” line so often that it seems second nature.
But should the Tarheels believe “God put us in this situation”? Should the Jayhawks believe God had picked them in a master bracket that predetermines the outcome of the games?
Does God deflect three-pointers or add enough spin for a ball bouncing on the rim to go in? Does God engineer injuries or influence foul calls or give one team a hot hand while holding the other one back?
I can’t find one scrap of biblical evidence to suggest that determining the outcome of sports contests is part of the divine agenda.
Surely God can use all aspects of life, including both winning and losing, as teachable moments — but that doesn’t mean God manipulates games for educational effect.
Even when we try our hardest, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose.
And we have to learn to live with it.
That part, Zeller got right: “Maybe I’ll understand it later. Maybe I won’t. But you just go to go with it.”