Football Vs. Predestination

This week, in an interview with the New Yorker, President Obama was quoted as saying, “I would not let my son play pro football.”

The President is not the first to speak out regarding the dangers of professional football. Many former players have said that they would not want their sons playing the game either. The game has become faster, the players larger, the hits harder, and therefore, injuries more frequent and severe. Studies have been conducted that show what sort of damage repeated hits to the head have caused football players over the years.

As a father, I can relate to the President’s concern. I watch the games on television and see player after player limping off the field or having to be carted into the locker room. To think of my son being on that field and facing those kinds of hits, quite frankly, scares the poo out of me. I can confidently say that I, too, would not want my son to play pro football.

But where does our concern for the safety of our children trump the need to let them make their own choices and take their own risks? If my son were to decide he wanted to play football in high school, would I forbid him for fear that it might lead to a career in the NFL? I know that I have to let my kids make mistakes because that is how they will learn, but I also have an innate desire to protect them. How do I reconcile those things…not only when it comes to playing pro football, but with everything in life?

God faced these same questions. Humanity was created with the ability to choose and we made mistakes. God saw us making those mistakes and tried to help us learn from them. God saw that those decisions were leading to our destruction. We were suffering injuries, sometimes because of our own poor choices and sometimes because of the poor choices of others. So, God had to decide whether or not to intervene, and how deeply to intervene.

God chose to send Jesus. God chose to save us, not by force, but through sacrifice. God did not withhold God’s own Son from danger but sent him straight into the middle of it…to save us from it. God knew the risks, but sent Jesus anyway.

So, does that mean that we SHOULD allow our sons to play pro football? No. But perhaps it does mean that simply keeping our sons out of it is not enough. Perhaps some change needs to happen. Perhaps we are called to bring about something new for the NFL, just as God through Jesus brought about something new for us. What that looks like I don’t know. But what I do know is that sometimes avoiding danger is not enough. Sometimes we need to take steps to lessen that danger…for ourselves, for our children, and for others.

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8 thoughts on “Football Vs. Predestination

  1. Very interesting idea. Not sure how I feel about it. With the argument of injury, everything is risky. What is “safe”? Not every position on the field is “risky”.

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    • You are certainly correct that there is a certain amount of risk in everything we do. The issue in football seems to me to be less about the risks associated with one particular incident (e.g. getting injured when tackled on a specific play), but more so about the injuries that occur from repeated hits. Now, there are definitely certain positions that face those risks more so than others. For example, a running back who averages 20 carries per game will experience more hits than a punter who is only on the field 7 or 8 times in a game and rarely gets hit. That said, I would still have concern for my child playing in the NFL as a punter because when you are kicking the ball as they do, you are in a rather compromised position when a tackler comes. The fact is that we are constantly faced with situations where we have to decide how involved to be in the lives of our children when it comes to letting them take those risks. We can’t ever fully protect them, but I know that I would certainly do anything in my power to do so.

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  2. When our children are little it is easy to lay down the law….when they turn mid-teens, It is an entirely different situation. Perhaps this developmental movement is also true theologically. May we speak of a developmental theology? God certainly operates in a different mode in the New Testament than he did in the Old. How often Israel was told to keep holy unto themselves…yet Jesus says Go into all the world. Reconciling the two strains is evolutionary and developmental. Is it heresy to say that God grew up? Perhaps, but just perhaps, God did grow up…in fact God was the first of all creation to grow up and show us how to do it. My eldest son (born 1981) grew up with different ground rules in our home than our last child (born 1987)….most of us as eldest children (and surprisingly a great many clergy are eldest children) can look at our younger siblings and say how easy it was for them compared to mom and dad learning how to parent on us. Ironically one of the first things a child learns in his or her own individuation is the word “NO”…and so do we as God’s children. Some would say that saying “NO” to God is the definition of sin….I’m not so sure. I relish the independence of my kids and I’d like to think that God relishes our independence too. If we were socially, emotionally or physically retarded, would that be a blessing? Similarly, is spiritual retardation a blessing or a bane? Just some grist for the mill

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    • Bill, I’m reminded of the King of Nineveh in the story of Jonah when he ordered the people of the city to repent, saying, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” I don’t truly understand how it works, but it certainly seems to fit with Scripture to say that God changes or “grows up” as you put it. And yet somehow God is also the same yesterday, today, and forever. I personally like to live in the tension between those two realities. 🙂

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      • I’ve always viewed those sorts of statements as the equivalent of when Scripture talks about God having a finger. God the Father does not have a body, but this anthropomorphism ($5 word) is God’s ‘baby-talk’ to us so that we understand (‘baby-talk’ analogy comes from Calvin). These statements are true, but also accommodations. That’s how I’ve thought of God ‘changing his mind’, at least.

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    • Bill – thanks for your comment. I enjoying hearing from other thoughtful Christians, but I’m concerned with a couple things you said. I’ll try to respond below and if I’m misunderstanding you, please help me to understand your point better.

      I. I’m not comfortable with saying either that God developed or grew up (known as Process Theology, in case you are wondering). My concern with using language like that is exactly what you brought up, Bill. What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? In some sense, God does something new in Jesus Christ, but in another sense what Christ is and does is a fulfillment of what God had promised even in the Garden. Jesus was not plan B. As Paul says, ‘All of God’s promises find their yes in Christ’ (2Cor 1:20). Fulfillment would not necessarily mean ‘growing up,’ but would actually entail a greater level of consistency between how God has acted in the Old Testament and how he acts in and through Jesus Christ. So my first concern with a developmental view of God is that it separates the Old and New Testaments in a way that doesn’t account for God’s covenantal faithfulness. I also don’t think that ‘be holy’ and ‘go into all the nations’ are antithetical. It is the same God who said in Genesis 12:3 that ‘all nations will be bless through you’ and in Jonah sent the prophet to the people of Nineveh, who also said in Leviticus ‘be holy as I am holy.’ All of that is deep in the Old Testament and fully consistent with Jesus (who in Mt 5-7 clearly calls for holiness, yet sends his people out for mission in Mt 28).
      My other concern is that God ‘changing’ creates a host of other problems outside of simply biblical exegesis. Not only does it go against classical orthodox understanding of God’s attributes (e.g. immutability, simplicity, etc.), but it can undermine trust in God’s faithfulness. The creator-creature distinction is helpful here. For us, change can be for the better or for the worse, but since God is already perfect in every way, change would be a move away from perfection – it would be a loss. You can’t go from perfect to more perfect, otherwise you weren’t perfect to begin with. But if God develops, then how do I know that what he is doing now is what is actually best? How do I trust his control of the universe and my own life? Maybe he’ll come up with a better idea later? See my concern? I don’t think the parenting analogy goes as far as to allow us to speak of God ‘growing as a parent.’ Even though God is our Father, He is God and not a creature and that distinction is vital for knowing where an analogy reaches its limits.

      2. Is ‘independence’ sin? Yes and No. I would be one of those people who would argue that saying ‘NO’ to God is a sin. That doesn’t mean that children should not have a level of maturity, but what makes maturity equal to independence? I wonder if this is more a product of our western post-enlightenment culture than it being ‘natural’ or even biblically grounded. I see throughout Scripture that Israel trying to be ‘independent’ or doing life without God (or more aptly, trying to be God by being independent) gets God quite frustrated, to say the least. Think of the story of Israel asking for a king. From the view of the rest of the world, this would have been seen as a move toward independence, but God sees this as a move away from recognizing his Lordship/Kingship to serving another King. Again, this doesn’t tell us how to parent our children, but theologically, to be independent or autonomy (lit. ‘self-governing’) is sin and is itself a denial of the Triune God’s lordship.

      Again, thanks for your response, I hope my comment clarifies some of my concerns. If I misunderstood you, make sure to let me know.

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      • Wow….you’ve given us a mouthful! Let me try to respond as succinctly as I am able. I am keenly aware of “Process Theology”. I have no problem with recognizing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the same God of Jesus, Peter and Paul as the same God of Jeff, Stephen and Bill. I don’t even have a problem with God the same yesterday, today and forever…perhaps “growing up” as I am using the term is not a matter of progressing and/or moving from one level of maturity to another but instead from one appropriate action/reaction to another. As Ecclesiastes so aptly states (and which the Byrds so beautifully sang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4) there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven. Trying to make a time to hate fit a time to love is a misappropriation…it is a square peg in a round hole and is an immature response to life. It is not grown up. When I use the phrase of God ‘growing up’ – its not from a state of less maturity to greater maturity…how arrogant could I be to speak of the maturity or lack of it of God? At the end of that long laundry list of the times of our lives in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a telling verse that reads “He has made everything suitable for its time…” (v.11). So when we find the suitable time, we’ve grown up. Although I don’t understand the flood, was it suitable for its time? Although I struggle with the exile, was it suitable for its time? Although I don’t understand the crucifixion, was it suitable for its time….the answer must be an undeniable YES. God is as covenantally faithful as He and we need Him to be. How can God deny himself? He can’t…but different times require different responses – its true for us and its true for God. Certainly one size does not fit all whether its clothing or what any of us need.

        Independence is sin ONLY IF it denies the Other. Perhaps this fits both the “Yes” and “No”. I think we need to turn your statement around to ask, “What makes Independence equal to maturity?” Independence is the questionable characteristic if I understand you correctly. Independence is mature if it recognizes and stays in positive relationship with the Other. Both of us know the immature response of many grown ups when they declare themselves independent of their parents or their children. My parents will always be my parents and my children always my children, unfortunately I pastor folks who see the disobedience of one or the other as a relationship breaking reality. Ultimately it is the broken relationship that is either the sin itself or the evidence of the sin. I would then posit that independence is only sin dependent – not on your definition of sin – but upon the definition we attach to independence.

        I would like to think of God and His Christ as being the first of everything rather than just the first born of the dead. This alone preserves the Sovereignty of God in all corners of creation and life. I do not believe that every prophecy is focused on Christ….and I also believe it is possible to proclaim the Good News without every mentioning Jesus…I firmly uphold that while Jesus is truly the eternal Son of God….the Good News is not about a person but a Kingdom.

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