“I knew that God was with us and would not leave us out [of the competition].” The words of Lionel Messi, possibly the best footballer on the planet, said with much relief, as Argentina survived an early World Cup exit. I wonder what he meant? Does God intervene to such an extent that s/he takes sides? Does God will one side to win and the other to lose?
The Old Testament is a record of an elected people who were on the side of the righteous. We witness wars and battles in which God is pivotal in the course of victory and defeat. Within all of the blood-letting, the Israelites affirm their favour with the God of the Universe by keeping to his commands and statutes.
During the First World War, Arthur Winnington Ingram, Bishop of London in a speech in 1914 for the bereaved families of fallen soldiers, characterized the victims as martyrs and linking them to Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church (Acts 7): “You have lost your boys, but what are they? Martyrs, martyrs as really as St Stephen was a martyr …” He clearly saw that God was on the side of the righteous, the British army.
St Paul said, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). We so easily fall into the trap of thinking that ‘God is on our side.’ We can be prone to attempt to manipulate God to do and say the things which we desire, like trying to coerce a kind but vulnerable uncle or aunt! God is beyond such anthropomorphic behaviours. God knows the games people play, the rivalries, the combats, the winning and the losing.
As for England’s chances in the World Cup, we might need some divine intervention to win. Henry V reminds us that patriotic fervour has deep resonances within English culture. What might our faith say about this?
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
Learn more about God’s care for all people this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am and 10am (which is the All Age Eucharist).
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