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067 Football Theodicy

What the heck is "football theodicy?"

"Theodicy" is a $20 word created by an 18th century philosopher named Leibnitz for arguments that explain the justice of God. Mostly things are called "theodicy" that attempt to answer the question, "How could a good and perfect God create our world, which is full of evil things?"

And "football" to me is American football, not European football or "soccer." I'm American and male, and It's useful for my analogy. If you don't know anything about American football just read along, my point should be clear enough.

Just judging by the number of times I see the issue arise in on-line forums, a lot of people seem to struggle with the idea that God created our sin-filled world, and it affects their faith. There seem to be quite a few people who simply can't believe that such a God exists, and a lot more people who maybe accept that He exists but can't bring themselves to pray or to rely on Him for much, because, well, "look at what trusting Him has produced."

That problem has never affected me much. As an argument against the existence of God, it doesn't work; my reasons for knowing that God exists don't rest on what I think of His world. I wonder what could be sillier than telling God, "I don't like the way you created the world so I'm going to pretend that you don't exist," unless maybe it's imagining that all the universes created themselves out of nothing.

Moreover, nothing is more expected than that I might not understand why God created the world the way He did. Who do I think I am, that I imagine that I would understand what God did or why? That's about as likely as my cat understanding what I'm doing when I read the Bible in the morning. I can see telling God, "I don't understand the world that You created," and even, "I don't like the world that You created," but I can't see telling Him, "Therefore You don't exist." 

But that's just me. Apparently it does bother some folks. 

In my estimation, it bothers them because they have too limited a perspective, so I'm going to provide an analogy that I hope will broaden their perspective.

When speaking of the problem of evil (which is what this question is called), people tend to include only two elements: there's God, and then there's me. I call out to Him, but God does not appear to respond, though He said that He would. "Where'd He go?" "He must really hate to hear from me." "He's mad at me, 'cause I'm bad." "Is He even there?"

They're having a problem because there's a third element present that they've omitted. So, let me suggest a different picture in which the apparent lack of response makes better sense. 

Think of a coach preparing a football team to play football (or any other sport you may know better). He leads them in sprints and distance runs. He prescribes weight-lifting and flexibility exercises. He teaches them plays, shows them how to plant their feet so they get maximum leverage, shows them how to hold the ball so they won't drop it. He tells them to visualize themselves succeeding: catching the ball, running down the field, crossing the goal line, blocking the other team from doing those things. He assures the players that so long as they do as they were taught and allow themselves to be conditioned and properly prepared, they should expect to win.

And then they go into the game, and the coach does not go out onto the field with them. And suddenly, the players are faced with a reality that was not entirely evident during their training: there's another team on the field, a team that may be just as well prepared as they are, and that team is doing their best to confound everything they've been taught to do. It is entirely possible that the players could do everything perfectly that they were trained to do and still not win the game. They might not be able to get the ball across the goal line even once, and the other team might score lots of times. While the other team is rushing them and pounding them into the ground, the assurance that they're going to win feels empty.

Now, we've read the end of the book and we know that our team wins in the end. However, too many people forget, when they're thinking about why our world is so painful, difficult, and even sometimes evil, that they have an opponent, and that whenever they approach God to get some sort of response or help, the opponent is right there doing his best to prevent that response and block that help. In terms of our analogy, there's another team on the field. We don't just get to live; we have to beat the other team, and that team is trying to beat us.

Whose fault is that? Should we blame God because we got tackled after moving forward only 3 yards? Is it His fault that we fumbled the ball or got bruised? Good grief, no; we wouldn't even be able to compete if He hadn't trained us and prepared us. We'd just get pushed all over the field. We're able to move forward, albeit with difficulty, because He's prepared us well--assuming that we've permitted Him to do that. (If you've been avoiding God's training, we need to have a different conversation.) 

You see, the devil is not God's enemy. God is sovereign; nobody could possibly be His enemy even if they wanted to be. The devil is our enemy. He's not fighting against God so much as he is fighting against us. And it's our job, not God's job, to overcome him. That's the game.

Consider the big picture provided by the writer of Revelation in chapter 12:

"And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.'"

Notice that the evil one accuses "our brothers" before God. Notice that it is "our brothers" that have conquered him. God is not doing the conquering; He's the judge, and the evil one is trying to get Him to judge us harshly. As we saw recently in Peter's presentation of the gospel, the good news is that we will be judged, not harshly, but kindly, because our sins have been forgiven. Notice that the things that produced that forgiveness are the very things by which we overcome the evil one: "the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony."

The same can be applied to everything that we experience. There's opposition. We have to push through it. Life seems to be about learning how to do that, and about learning how to enjoy God in the middle of doing that.

Of course, one can then ask, why is there a game at all? Why is there an evil opponent? What's the point? The answer to that has to be the same as the answer to why games like football exist: they're analogs to more important things, and the lessons learned in mastering the game have relevance to a more important and difficult field of endeavor. Our lives on this planet appear to be some sort of preparation for more difficult and important tasks to be taken up afterward. We can infer that from some of Jesus' parables, particularly the parables of the talents (Matthew 25:13-30) or the minas (Luke 19:11-27); in those parables, those rewarded for doing well were given greater responsibility. 

That's pretty much all that we've been told about what's coming. However, we can infer things from what challenges us. What gets challenged in life is our character, ingenuity and endurance; but also, more fundamentally, our faith. We might infer that whatever comes next will require everything that we have learned about how to rely on God, and will require us to apply that with sound character and patience.

So my advice this week is to remember, whenever you need something and ask for God's assistance, that there's another team on the field working to make sure that you don't receive it. Remember what you've been taught, keep praying and trusting, and press through the opposition. God does know your needs and He does answer your prayers; if you expect opposition and are prepared to overcome it, you will receive what was promised.

Phil Weingart

Don't forget to order your copy of my new book, "The Rabbi on the Mount: How Jesus' Judaism Clarifies the Sermon on the Mount." Click on the image to visit Amazon and get your copy in trade paperback or Kindle format.

Also, click on the image below to get my previous book, "He's Greater Than You Know: Essays for a Doubting Christian," also available at Amazon in trade paperback or Kindle format.


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