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Rev. Thomas, the former General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, is now a professor and administrator here at CTS. Follow his timely, provocative writings on the issues of our day.

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Why Does God Hate the Cubs?

After one day of the 2014 baseball season the Cubs are in the cellar. They managed to score zero runs, wasting a fine starting effort by their ace pitcher who shut out the Pirates for seven innings. This past weekend the Tribune highlighted the upcoming season for the local teams. Most of the news about the Cubs related to the celebration of the centennial of Wrigley Field, confirming the belief that Chicago really only has one team, and one really cool old stadium where professional baseball is occasionally played. Last year the management spent much of the season negotiating to install new signs at Wrigley. There was great passion about preserving and improving this historic gem. But what about having a major league team?

A survey last year by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that about three in ten Americans believe that God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events. A whopping 53% believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success. And lest you think these groups are only representative of right wing conservative religion, almost one in five white, mainline Protestants agree that God plays a role, and two in five think God rewards athletes who have faith.

This leads to the question, “Why does God hate the Cubs?” The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and their most recent appearance in the fall classic was in 1945. They have the record for the most years without a championship of any professional sports team in North America. For some reason the Cubs still draw a crowd and seem to claim the allegiance of a remarkable number of fans who apparently eschew excellence for an annual season of self-flagellation. A glance around the stadium suggests that some of this is due to the large number of young people with disposable income who live in the neighborhood and enjoy a night out with their friends amid the cachet of the old park; it doesn’t seem to be much about the baseball itself.

It’s altogether possible, of course, that God actually doesn’t hate the Cubs, that their century plus record of futility has nothing to do with divine intervention or non-intervention, and that the fact that the Cubs hitters went 0-11 with runners in scoring position yesterday was not a judgment about their godless ways. It probably means that the team just isn’t very good and hasn’t been for a long time.

How curious that so many presumably educated Americans who have been exposed at some point to relatively sane religion are so prepared to assign to God responsibility for all human activities. Do we think that God really has time to be interested in who wins the Stanley Cup? (This one may get me in real trouble!) And what about the really important events? Does God have a grudge against Syrians? Was the horrible mudslide in Washington truly an “act of God?” Or did it have more to do with over-logging the hillside and building houses in a geologically unstable area?

Christians do believe that God is more than an aloof, transcendent being, that there is a divine sense of pathos particularly for the tragic dimensions of the human condition. And our Sunday morning prayer petitions which run the range from peace in the Middle East to Aunt Mary’s gall bladder can lure worshippers into the “God as Great and All Powerful Wizard of Oz” who can defeat wicked witches and ship Dorothy and Toto home. Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many people assume God has a keen eye on the critical pitch in the bottom of the ninth with the winning run on base.

But this still doesn’t make for good theology. Better to allow God’s relationship to the creation to remain somewhat mysterious, to trust that there is a divine benevolence urging and luring us toward life and wholeness, justice and peace, even amid the tragic, and a presence in Christ that bears burdens and elicits joy while leaving us morally responsible for events large and small. I for one would rather believe in a God who somehow cares instead of one who is constantly tweaking and fixing. Otherwise, I’d have to ask the really troubling question: “Why does God love the damned Yankees?”

John H. Thomas
April 3, 2014

           

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