After winning the BCS National Championship game, Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik said in his post-game field interview, “God was with us …”
I was saddened.
I realize Chizik is not trying to court controversy or spark a theological debate. I’m aware that in the moment of his career’s biggest accomplishment, he had the presence of mind to recognize the interplay between divinity and humanity. On one level I’m impressed by this attempt at humility, yet theologically speaking, I balk at it too.
Chizik is correct that God was with him and his team. We worship a God who is both transcendent and immanent – simultaneously above and apart from creation while fully involved in it.
But theologically speaking, I profoundly disagree with the context in which Chizik said, “God was with us.” To think God aided Auburn and abated Oregon is ludicrous. It suggests God’s greatest concern is college football. It also suggests God has favorites (which I’m fully aware the Hebrew Scriptures paint at times).
I find it quite hard to accept this theology, for it goes against verses like Acts 10:34, which says, “God shows no partiality or favoritism.” This statement is spoken by Peter and repeated again by Paul in Romans 2.
Chizik’s comment is one of many banal examples of American religious rhetoric. It reflects Western Christianity’s narrow idea of God’s influence, love, attention and care. We talk like God is more concerned about the over/under of a game than we do about the Sudanese, the war in Korea, babies in Haiti, flood relief in Pakistan, millions dying from malaria, trafficked children of West Africa.
Our scope is too narrow. We, in the United States, don’t think enough about God’s global concerns. If we did, we wouldn’t treat God like a primordial bookie.
I fear U.S. religion focuses on how God intervenes in our lives instead of how we can partner with God in the world’s ongoing creation, redemption and struggle. Our vocabulary must change. We must speak more about God’s global concern for redemption than we do our own accomplishments.
Hear me say, “I believe God does care about our happiness and our accomplishments.” I also believe God cares about the Oregon Ducks and their self-esteem as well as the crises that unfold in our world each minute.
It is past time that Christians in the United States realize there is a world beyond our own. The immanent God that we feel intersecting with our lives is also transcending the same immanence to all people across the globe – yet we never talk about this.
I’m not mad at Chizik (nor am I an Alabama fan who just wants to find something wrong in the midst of Auburn’s success). I’m mad that American religious rhetoric isn’t better.
It’s time for us to start speaking more globally instead of so locally.
J. Barrett Owen is the admissions associate at the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University as well as the pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. He enjoys sharing his life, hobbies and ministry with his beautiful fiancé.
Senior pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the Good Faith Media advisory council.