Bob Dylan's classic song, "With God on Our Side," resounds with cynicism. It's an anthem against religious justification for acts of violence, racial subjection, and blind obedience that supersedes rational thought and conscience. It exposes a sentiment that can be ultra-personal ("God won't judge me for this tiny infraction"), denominational ("Anabaptists deserve execution"), cultural ("God has called us to subject and educate the Native Americans"), or national ("The United States is the Promised Land"). Some of it takes the self-righteous positive stance, and some of it takes the damning negative stance against the other. People often speak of God as a celestial cheerleader who lends support to a cause or grants divine favor to a particular group or movement.
More accurate is the position of Romans 3.10: "As it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one.'" Therefore, God's "position" is much more akin to the sentiment Treebeard expresses to the Hobbits in The Two Towers: “Side? I am on nobody's side, because nobody is on my side, little orc.”
All that said, as a battered but hopeful Eagles fan, who has been soaking in all the hype leading up to and surrounding this phenomenal Super Bowl LII victory, the season has been a fascinating insight into what God does when people seek to worship Him in their personal lives.
It would, of course, be poor theology to suggest that God is an Eagles fan (despite jasper stones around the heavenly throne, just sayin'), and just as ridiculous to impose that God's attentions are riveted to our modern-day gladiator competitions. But at the forefront of the 2017-2018 Eagles team are three incredible leaders (Pederson, Wentz, and Foles), surrounded by a united body of brothers in Christ, who have collectively gone out of their way to proclaim their love for and devotion to our Heavenly Father, giving Him the glory for their skills and their victories. That is something absolutely extraordinary -- not just within the NFL, but in all pro sports.
It's one thing to have the stereotypical "I thank God and my family" media soundbites from your super-star. It's a rare but great thing to have a single, sold-out believer on your team who radically speaks to the media about his or her faith. But it's another thing entirely when you have a core group of player and coaches who -- in every single interview with the media -- unanimously credit Jesus Christ not only with gifting them with talents, but also with changing their lives and motivating them to humility, self-sacrifice, and servanthood. The Eagles are on a whole other level with this. The testimonies of Pederson, Wentz, and Foles have all received attention simply because they're the ones most often confronted with microphones, but there are so many others -- among them, Stefen Wisniewski, Jordan Hicks, Trey Burton, Chris Maragos, Torrey Smith, Marcus Johnson, Zach Ertz, and others. This is a team where players like Chris Long not only donate their paychecks to charity, but also do short-term missions work (Carson Wentz, Torrey Smith), and aspire to become pastors post-NFL (Nick Foles). This is a team where players not only attend team chapel (out of devotion rather than obligation), but also preach at team chapel. These are teammates who have held baptisms in their locker room, who have taken every opportunity after games to pray on the field with members of the opposing team, and who deflect media ego-stroking with humble recognition of God's sovereignty.
And there's plenty to brag about, of course. Their athleticism, team play, and individual stats -- setting franchise and league records -- all speak for themselves. In fact, if the Eagles were just a bunch of decent players surrounding a star quarterback, there is no way their season could have continued after Wentz's injury, much less secured a Super Bowl victory. Instead, they fought on, adapted, and continued to play their absolute best, having some incredible fun in the process, and proving that they truly had greatness. In the process of losing key players left and right all season long yet going on to defeat the greatest team in recent NFL history, there have been plenty of opportunities for self-pity and arrogance alike, but so many players' testimonies of faith -- though tested by fire -- have all proven strong.
The implication of this is certainly not that God is an Eagles fan or that He's "on our side" simply because Eagles players repped Him in postgame interviews. But it is certainly a biblical principle that God blesses the work of the faithful. Psalm 1.1-3 attests to this: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." The beauty of this principle is that, in terms of God's kingdom, such prospering is both micro- and macroscopic. It works like this: God shows Himself to be faithful by honoring the work of a righteous man's hands (i.e. career choices, ministry involvement, and even skill development). As God shows Himself to be faithful, the righteous man gives God glory and worship and praise, not mistaking the tangible blessing as his ultimate reward, but as a small display of God's unfathomable grace. As he does so, others see and testify, and they too give God glory and worship and praise. And so the cycle continues. It's not about God blessing the temporal things we do on this earth, it's also about Him blessing our eternal investments into His Kingdom, which isn't primarily about the big stuff -- missions trips, social work, etc -- but about our every-day, Romans 12:1-2 worship. Don't make the mistake of seeing this as the absolute nonsense of prosperity doctrine: God does NOT always make us wealthy and healthy just because we're obedient or have strong faith. He does, however, honor the righteous who aren't looking for an immediate reward, but who do their very best to worship God in everything, whatever the consequence, and keep their eyes on the REAL reward of eternity with Christ.
Nowhere is that principle more clearly illustrated than in our franchise quarterback. Since Carson's injury in Week 14 against LA, I've been telling friends and family that he has an even greater testimony to give from the sidelines than he does from the pocket. For a man whose love for Christ and joy in everything he does are so obvious to go out with a season-ending injury, but still maintain his demeanor and remain committed to being a coach, leader, and teammate from the sidelines -- and to rejoice with his backup as he assumes leadership and brings the team to a championship... This is a much more powerful statement to who Carson Wentz is as a follower of Christ, and how awesome is the God we serve! Interestingly enough, that's exactly the biblical model of discipleship: one leading and instructing while another watches and learns, then humbly stepping aside to allow the other to take the helm and become the leader. Sometimes circumstances demand that the transition happens sooner than expected, and the real test of a man's maturity is in how he responds when things don't go the way he planned.
Dylan was right to criticize sins justified by religion and race. The only one who can justify is God, and He didn't sweep our sins under the rug and pretend like they didn't happen. Instead, He came in the form of a man to pay for all of our misdeeds, and to graciously give us His own righteousness instead of the eternal death we deserved. The beauty of entering into new spiritual life with Christ is that He engages with us as we, by His Spirit, align ourselves to Him -- to be on HIS side. He blesses the work of our hands for His glory and for our good.
I believe that's what we witnessed with this Eagles team all season long: God's blessing for honest and visible faith on the field. While that doesn't guarantee a Philadelphia dynasty or even a repeat Superbowl run for 2018-2019, it does mean that God has always honored and will honor humble, righteous men for their love, devotion, and service to Him -- either in this world or in Heaven to come.