These are hard times for a Notre Dame football fan. As I write this in late September 2007 they are 0-4. That means they haven't won a single game yet this season! Fans of the Fighting Irish (of which I am one) are upset and already pointing fingers at the coach, at the staff, at the new freshman quarterback, at just about anybody. How could this storied franchise sink so low?
(It's not within the scope of this Spirit Spot for me to comment on sports but, if you want my two cents worth, the offensive line needs to protect their quarterback better, the receivers need to actually catch their QB's long passes, and Jimmy Clausen — aforementioned new quarterback — needs to move in the pocket a little more confidently. Go, Irish!)
How do diehard fans cope with their team's losing ways? What keeps them fired up? Why do they keep on painting themselves in the team colors while yelling and screaming their devotion at game time? In one word: faith. Faith lies at the heart of sports fandom — faith in the players, faith in the team's legacy of past glory, faith in what the team stands for in each fan's life. Team devotion is almost — dare I say it? — a religious experience.
The trouble is, no matter how good a sports team is, someday it will lose, and lose big. Our favorite teams will let us down because nobody is perfect. This is how faith in a sports team is different from faith in God: God will NEVER let us down!
That's a bold statement. The world is sadly filled with people who have abandoned their faith because God allegedly let them down. God didn't grant them a favor asked in prayer; or God allowed a terrible tragedy to occur in their life; or God wasn't present at a time when they needed God most.
Notice how all those statements are predicated on whether God did or didn't do something for the person. Why is it that when sports teams fail, fans remain loyal? But when God doesn't seem to come through, some people get angry and lose their faith?
God will never let us down. Maybe it is WE who need to change, not God. If God isn't answering our prayers the way WE want, maybe God has another plan that will be revealed in God's time, not our time. If tragedy has visited upon us, maybe we can be strengthened by the fact that tragedy also visited upon Jesus, and yet he remained faithful and obedient unto death.
Faith does not depend on what God does or doesn't do for us. Faith means believing in God no matter what, trusting that God's grace will sustain us, and God's wisdom will prevail.
Sarah Hart's song I Will Have Faith in You has some good lines that are worth our reflection:
When the night is closing in,
I will have faith in you.
When I've lost all hope within,
I will have faith in you.
I will be hopeful.
I will not lose heart.
I will be trusting
in everything you are.
Faith is believing
in all that love can do,
and I am in your keeping,
so I will have faith in you.
"Touchdown Jesus" mural as seen from Notre Dame Stadium!
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