Perhaps because of the number of players from Catholic Latin America, Major League baseball is the most outwardly religious of all the professional sports. Players regularly make the sign of the cross before stepping into the box and point to the heavens when they get a big hit. But most players and fans, when pressed, will say that God does not really care about the score of a baseball game. Despite the consensus, this assumption should be addressed. It reveals God as distant Father that is too busy running the universe to care about the outcome of a baseball game rather than Him in whom “we live and have our being”(Acts 17:28)
One might reasonably ask what kind of father does not care whether his son wins his baseball game. It might be that the father cares solely because his son does, but nevertheless a loving father ought to care whether his son wins his baseball game or not. But, it might be objected that the interlocutor is projecting man’s fatherhood onto God’s Fatherhood rather than the other way around. Only God is truly a Father and a man is a father only by way of analogy. For example, everyone would agree that a man who stands idly by while his child runs into the street and gets hit by a car is a terrible father. God’s Fatherhood on the other hand is not diminished when He allows the same thing to happen because His Fatherhood extends eternally. In other words, God’s Fatherhood is more than man’s fatherhood and not less. If a human father cares for his children’s happiness more so would God the Father care. We shall return to this point shortly.
In truth, the person who says that God does not care about the score of a baseball game is reversing the analogy. He is projecting the “trophy mentality” that is so prevalent among parents and coaches today onto God the Father. There is no award for excellence, only for trying. We do not care whether you win or lose and therefore God does not either.
But there is a deeper issue at play here. This type of mentality reveals a deep-seeded dualism that infects modern man. The modern dualist believes that the world is made up the two opposing realms of the secular and the spiritual. There is no real overlap between the two worlds and the gods of both realms act independently of each other. The end result is that modern man is disintegrated and lives his life in a completely compartmentalized fashion. One needs only to look at Sundays as evidence. The ritual of watching football (and usually a lot of it) honors the secular god “weekend” while we go to Mass in the morning because “giving God one hour of my week is the least I can do.” The best of us try to try to keep one foot in each realm but the secular god eventually wins out because he is literally in our face all the time. He finally wins out when we concede “God does not care how we worship Him.”
It was mentioned above that if human fathers care about the happiness of children than God cares even more. This comment deserves further explanation. To the modern mind, happiness is synonymous with contentment. It is seen subjectively as a temporary feeling that is dependent on external circumstances. That the word happy comes from the Old English word for “chance” is a perfect illustration of this. Classically understood though, happiness is a translation of the Greek word eudaimonia which defines happiness as a condition of the soul that finds its ultimate fulfillment in the beatific vision. God, because He wills our eternal happiness, cares about all those things and events that contribute to our beatitude.
What the person who says that God does not care about who wins a baseball game is really saying is that the result of a baseball game has no bearing on the sanctification of mankind. This is to suggest that there are things (or at least this one thing) that are neutral to our salvation. This is a slippery slope. If it really is neutral then the game can be played in any manner the participants and spectators see fit. If the behavior of many of the players and the baseness of the advertising we will see this Sunday is any indication then empirically this seems to already be the prevailing thought. The truth is that grace perfects nature and, not only does it never destroy it, but it also never ignores it.
It also seems to reveal a denial of God’s Providence. At first glance this seems reasonable. After all, anyone who watches any sporting event is struck by how prominent a role “chance” plays. From a ball that bounces off the pitcher’s leg and ends up in the hands of the first baseman to the weather, chance is often the difference maker in a game. The truth is that a belief in chance and a belief in a Provident God cannot coexist.
What we call chance really is based on one of two things. The first is when we speak of chance that is really based on some unobserved causality. For example, a receiver slips and the defensive back intercepts the pass. The replay later reveals that what we would chalk up to chance is really due to the fact that a sprinkler head was left above the ground.
The second explanation of chance results from two or more lines of causality, neither of which is governed by chance, but act independently of each other. One of these agents of causality is God as the cause of all that is, although there may be other agents as well.
With a proper understanding of the notion of chance, we can now begin to see what someone might mean when they say God does not care about baseball games. God’s Providence imposes necessity on some things and contingency on others. It might very well be the case that God imposes contingency on the results of the baseball game. This however does not mean that it falls outside His Providence. It only means He imparts the dignity of being a cause to His creatures. To the matter at hand, the result of the baseball game may depend upon the freely chosen preparation of the two teams. Nevertheless it does not fall outside His Providence. Everything is part of His plan, even if there are different causes, and this includes who wins a baseball game.
In closing, and to be fair to those who say this, I think it bears mentioning one possible meaning to a statement like “God does not care who wins baseball games.” Like all things governed by His Providence, it is not an absolute end. He uses a baseball game as a means to His overall end of uniting mankind with Himself. That doesn’t mean only that He plots out how a Cubs victory in the World Series can bring about some other good (or the Apocalypse), but also that sports (and I think this is what makes them so attractive to us) point to higher things. St. Paul uses sports (and specifically winning) to both enlighten and motivate his Corinthian audience. The joy of winning can be a sacrament pointing to the joy of winning THE race. And that is enough for God to truly care about the outcome.