On Sunday, before the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers face off in Super Bowl XLV, the two teams and their fans will likely pray and ask God to, in essence, rig the game in their favor.
But does God care who wins?
Prayer is the mechanism used to communicate with the Almighty. While God is omniscient (all-knowing), he desires that we make petitions to him so we can develop a relationship and reaffirm our dependence on him.
Theists believe God is omnipotent (all-powerful). Miracles — inexplicable phenomena that defy the laws of nature — are attributed to divine intervention. Therefore, people of faith believe God is capable of manipulating the outcome of any event. If he does not, it is not because he is unable, but because he chose not to do so.
Christians believe God hears our prayers. Jesus said in Matthew, “If you believe, you will receive, whatever you ask for in prayer.” But the Bible points to several reasons prayers seem to go unanswered. Chief among these: a lack of faith that God can deliver and petitions that are not within God’s will or, from his perspective, within our best interest. There also are times when God does not respond the way the petitioner envisioned and, therefore, the result is seen as an unanswered prayer.
Some argue that God answers the prayers only of those deemed righteous. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican contradicts this view. In his prayer, the Pharisee, who meticulously followed divine law, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people. … I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The publican, a religious outcast, simply pleaded, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Jesus pointed out that God heard the publican’s, not the Pharisee’s, prayer because of the publican’s humility.
Even when all the human conditions for answered prayer are met, God sometimes does not intervene. Theologians do not claim to know why God chooses to act, but there are some agreed-upon premises: God never will do anything that contradicts any of his attributes, he does not intrude on our free will and he allows miracles to happen only if they ultimately will bring him glory.
Football is a physical game. Perhaps our prayers should be for the players’ safety.
There is certainly no harm in asking God for insignificant requests such as a victory for a favorite team. The dilemma, of course, is if both teams pray, God will have to take sides. Chances are, he will sit on the sidelines. But just in case God decides to heed the prayers of Super Bowl fans, I’m sending mine up for the Steelers.