Twenty years ago last month, I had a public theological disagreement with Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.
In addition to his significant role as defensive end for the Packers, who were soon to play in the Super Bowl, White was a Pentecostal preacher. Both of us - along with several other players and theologians - were interviewed for the Sports Illustrated cover story, "Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?"
Several of my theologian friends took the negative position. One of them even doubted that God cared about the game at all, and a couple of others were wary of any suggestion that God had anything to do with deciding who wins.
White was a strong supporter of the idea of an active divine role in determining the outcome. He asked: What basis do the scholars have for thinking God does not take sides? After all, he observed, "God intervened in David's fight with Goliath."
While I was not ready to endorse the idea that God actively determines who will win, I did not accept the view of my theological colleagues who insisted God stays aloof from what goes on in football. I said - and I still see it this way - that God cares much about how the game is played. And it is not simply how the players treat each other as competitors. It's also the physical prowess on display in a well-played game.
Friend and colleague Lewis Smedes once mused about the range of things God enjoys: a well-written poem, a Bach concerto, a courageous act of justice. I would add to the list: an exciting football game. When a quarterback throws a long pass and a player down the field makes a spectacular catch, I imagine the Lord saying to himself: "Nicely done! This is one of the reasons why I created the human race!"
The Packers lost to the Denver Broncos in that 1998 Super Bowl. John Elway completed some excellent passes in the game. I think God enjoyed watching those plays. And I don't think he was disappointed with White for being on the losing team.
What all of this reinforces for me is the need to acknowledge the creator's interest in how the game gets played while not being a special fan of either. But we human creatures are not bound to such neutrality.
Because I try to keep a proper theological perspective, I am not wondering which team God favors. But since I am not God, I do have an interest in the outcome. And even though my own favorite team is not playing this year, I have some strong feelings about one of the teams that will be playing: I sure as heck hope they get beat. But if their quarterback happens to throw a few completed passes, I will try to remind myself about what God enjoys.