JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–The stadiums now stand silent. The vuvuzelas are packed away. Tourists are boarding planes, heading home to jobs and families. Media outlets are unplugging computers and loading up gear, ready to move on to the next big event.
Spain may still be celebrating their historic World Cup victory, but 31 other nations already are more focused on 2014 and how to do better next time.
It seems practically the entire planet has been soccer-obsessed for the last month. A question lingers in some believers’ minds: Does God really care about the World Cup?
During the tournament, countless ministries shared the Gospel throughout South Africa, and we know God cares about the many souls who entered His Kingdom, as well as those still searching.
But does He care who wins the World Cup?
I say yes. But not because He wants to bless a particular nation, or because one team’s fans pray harder than others, or because a specific athlete gives credit to God when he scores.
God cares who wins the World Cup because He cares about His glory. In an event of such global magnitude, God’s glory has opportunities to shine in many big and small ways.
On a large scale, some African Christians claimed an African team would not win the World Cup because ancestral spirits, instead of Christ, would gain credit and praise. Many African players consulted witch doctors and spirits in an effort to gain victories.
Of course, one can’t really take that argument to the opposite extreme, claiming the team who prays to God should win. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such fervent prayer as that coming from athletes during the Ghana vs. Uruguay quarterfinal. Men on both sides imploringly raised their hands to heaven or bowed faces to earth, pleading for teammates to score enough penalty kicks to move forward in the competition.
Whose prayer is God supposed to answer? It can’t simply be the team with the most Christians. If so, the United States, Brazil, South Korea and Ghana all should have won the trophy.
A team full of Christians who think God will bless them with victory simply because they’re Christians has too much of a prosperity gospel slant for my taste. God often seems to allow defeat, even for men of faith, so He can test and sharpen their characters.
For God, winning isn’t really the point. In his classic devotional “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers said it well:
“We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end. … It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.”
When it comes to sports, maybe God is a little like me — not so much into the event itself as He is into the people participating in the event.
For example, I don’t particularly care about the English Premier League, but I do like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and other Americans who play professional soccer in England. So if an EPL match comes on TV, I’ll probably watch it, just because I want to watch those guys play.
During the World Cup, God may have been more concerned with how Brazilian superstar Kaká, a well-known Christian, handled what many deem an unfair red card, and later his team’s defeat in a quarterfinal, than in making sure he won the golden trophy.
For God, victory often comes in how we handle defeat, even if it’s just a quiet whisper of victory only He knows about, rather than a confetti-infused triumph on the world stage.
It comes down to the individual. Maybe God allowed Spain to win because 20 years from now, after the glory of winning his country’s first World Cup title has faded, a Spanish athlete will realize any worldly victory is hollow without Christ.
Maybe today, a Christian from the Netherlands realizes something similar — a loss isn’t devastating, because his real identity is in Christ.
So does God care who wins the World Cup? Definitely. Because He cares about people.
Based in South Africa, Melanie Clinton is a writer and editor for the International Mission Board’s global communication team.