Tim Tebow’s attempt to play Major League Baseball (MLB) was obstructed recently when he broke a bone in his hand while swinging a bat. An injured minor-league baseball player wouldn’t normally make national news. Tebow, however, is not a typical case. Tebow’s fame comes not from baseball but from football. His dramatic victories, combined with his public demonstrations of his Christian faith, created a media sensation. The development of “Tebowmania” included speculation that God might be providing Tebow some type of on-field assistance. Accordingly, this latest twist in Tebow’s unique career provides a fresh opportunity to consider whether God influences sports.
Surveys conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) indicate that roughly a quarter of U.S. residents believe God plays a role in determining sports outcomes. Athletes and fans sometimes express similar sentiments. Ray Lewis has suggested that God helped his team win the Super Bowl. Sister Jean, chaplain for Loyola’s men’s basketball team, implied that her faith might have helped Loyola-Chicago during the 2018 men’s NCAA championship tournament.
The claim that God influences sports tends to follow a particular pattern: God assists faithful athletes, typically Christian athletes, at particularly important times. People do not usually see God’s influence during benign events in meaningless games. Rather, God exerts some type of influence at pivotal moments in especially important competitions (for example, the Super Bowl). Perhaps not surprisingly, this claim reflects the nature of God’s influence as depicted by the Bible. God doesn’t help David with mundane tasks such as transporting grain and bread; God helps David defeat the mighty Goliath. The claim that God assists Christian athletes is also consistent with Christian prosperity theology, which suggests that God shifts life events to reward those who behave faithfully.