Updated: Tim Schenck’s column has been picked up by the Huffington Post.
In the wake of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl victory, Ray Lewis the great Ravens’ linebacker who had just played his last game invoked the Letter to the Romans to explain why his team had won. “If God is for us, who can be against us,” Lewis said in response to a question from Jim Nantz of CBS Sports.
Leaving aside the question of whether God cares who wins the Super Bowl, the notion that winners win because it is God’s will that they win is dangerous in all kinds of ways, not least that it excuses all manner of structural injustice. Lewis’ remarks created an opening for Christians who believe he is mistaken about the nature of God’s favor to tell a different kind of story, and the Rev. Tim Schenck stepped up to it quickly, writing this column this morning:
There’s no doubt he has a larger pulpit than any member of the clergy. He can “preach” to millions while most of us are stuck preaching to hundreds. His platform makes the pulpit at the Washington National Cathedral look like a battery-operated megaphone. The problem with this is that Lewis can preach the Gospel According to Ray without consequence or accountability. He claims to answer to God alone but sometimes there’s a fine line between God and Ray and that not only makes people uncomfortable, it can be dangerous.
In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, a reporter asked Lewis, “How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?” He responded “When God is for you, who can be against you?” The implication being that God was “for” Lewis and the Ravens more than God was “for” the 49ers. That’s a slippery theological slope. Does it mean that God preferred one Harbaugh brother over the other? Does it mean that if you pray enough, God will reward you with success and riches beyond your wildest imagination? If you don’t win the big game or get that promotion or get an A on your calculus test, are you a lousy Christian?
This not only turns faith into competitive blood sport, it sets up a dangerous dualistic approach where you’re either on God’s side or not. Everything becomes black and white with no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the human relationship with God is much more nuanced than this — our faith ebbs and flows, there are moments of inspiration followed by periods of doubt. Like the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, faith is a living, breathing life-long journey of falling away and returning to God.
In other words, if God is for us, that doesn’t mean there’s an equal and opposite person that God is against. It just doesn’t work that way since God is “for” everyone who seeks God out and takes even the most tentative step toward relationship.