October 09, 2003

Should I be praying for the Cubs?

A friendly reader in Chicago who happens also to be a character in a book that's influenced my life nearly as much as the Bible expresses some curiosity about whether God cares about the Cubs and if it's okay to pray about their performance and wonders if NeoTheologue can help. Well, I don't know if I can help, but I can surely wax theologic about it for a while.

In fact, I was getting ready to do just that when I happened across AKMA's post on the topic in which he (1) uses Latin and (2) reports that the Chicago Trib ran an article yesterday in which they asked several theological heavyweights the same questions. (For all you cyber-libertarians, feel free to access the Trib article using member name "neotheologue" and password "neotheologue.") Apparently the folks at the Trib had trouble getting hold of me for the article, presumably because I'm soon to enter my third week in dial-up hell. So I'll publish my thoughts here, where far fewer people will read them but where Trillian won't have to take advantage of her "broken ankle discount" at the newsstand to get at them.

Bottom line up front: Yes but not really, and probably not. Yes, God really cares about who wins the NLCS, but not in the way most of us think, or would like to think. "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord," says Solomon in Proverbs 16:33. In other words, God is controlling all the outcomes. There's no such thing as chance or coincidence; as Twila Paris is so fond of saying, "God is in control." To which I would add, "without actually controlling all things." (Unless you're comfortable living in the tension of paradox, best not to ponder that one too deeply.) Somehow, in some way that's beyond my capacity to understand, God is using the Cubs' phenomenal run this year to advance all of creation toward His purpose for it, "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). We're talking, of course, about God's sovereign will here (you knew my flavor-of-the-month was going to come up somewhere in this post, didn't you?) God cares about every thread in the great tapestry of existence, because He's weaving it all together into a coronation robe for His son.

That being said, the wisdom of praying for the Cubs is questionable at best. On this point I'll respectfully disagree with both Trevor, who wrote, "As Christians, we are taught to pray for everything, and that shouldn't ever be construed to exclude the Cubs," and AKMA, who thought he was "right on the button." My thoughts on the topic are more akin to Trillian's, who wrote:
Maybe the mother of a player could send a prayer or two for her son to play well, not hurt himself and be a good boy - I could understand that, I think a God would, too, I think that might be appropriate. But for a fan to pray for a victory in a baseball game?
I guess, when I think about it in Trevor's terms, I don't think we're taught to pray for everything, and I don't think God wants us to pray for everything. It's a question of stewardship of time. I don't think spending thirty seconds asking God which of my three identical pairs of brown socks He wants me to wear today honors Him; in fact, I think it belittles Him. As a pastor, I could easily spend eight or ten hours each day praying for the needs of the people in my congregation and parish, but I think God would rather I spent some of that time studying His word, evaluating the health of our church, planning for future events, and maybe even actually getting together with some of those people I could otherwise be praying for.

When you take Trevor's theology of prayer to its logical conclusion, it quickly becomes unworkable. At some point, you must consciously or unconsciously abandon the approach in favor of something that's actually doable. You draw a horizontal line between those things that are worth praying about and those that aren't. You end up believing one way and living another.

I think God wants you to consciously draw that line, and as Trillian said, I think for the vast majority of people, He wants you to draw it in such a way so as to exclude trivial matters like baseball. If you're a person for whom baseball is no trivial matter -- if you make a living from it, for example -- then it's a worthy investment of your time to pray about it, and God is pleased with such good stewardship. If your not one of those, oh, say ten thousand or so people, then I think God would prefer to see you spend that time praying for, say, world peace, or your children's future, or your pastor. =)


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