Does God favor Argentina?
I am not a soccer fan. I have never attended a soccer match in a stadium. So far, during this World Cup, I have watched maybe 20 minutes of matches on TV. And I look on with great amazement as a frenzied crowd goes wild when their favorite team scores.
Of course, I did follow the Dutch team’s performance in Qatar, and I am aware that the Dutch lost to Argentina, when it finally came down to penalties. (Actually, a strange way to decide a match. To me it looks like a lottery.) One in every three Dutch people watched the Netherlands-Argentina match. That is considerably more than will be sitting in church during Christmas. It does say something about our society. Incidentally, the question remains whether we should have participated in this tournament at all, given the history (read: corruption) surrounding the choice of Qatar, and the way in which this country treated the laborers who had to build the necessary stadiums and other infrastructure.
Disappointment all around! The Dutch did not make it. Louis van Gaal’s dream that the Dutch would become world champions was shattered. But is this disappointment justified? The Netherlands finished as one of the eight best soccer countries in the world. Surely that is a very good result in the 2022 World Cup. After all, you can’t all be the best. [I would love to be the best preacher in our little Dutch Adventist world, but I would also be very satisfied with a spot among the best eight . . . or even the best sixteen...]
Two things in particular have stuck in my mind in recent days. I have great admiration for Louis van Gaal. Not only is he a unique man, who knows how to liven up every press conference with some extradordinary remarks, but with his 71 years he is an inspiration for many older people who doubt whether they are still capable of some special achievement. Van Gaal managed to overcome his prostate cancer and went on to deliver an extraordinary performance.
And then one other thing. There was extensive mention in the newspaper that arrives in my mailbox every morning, that some of the players on the Dutch team place great value on prayer. And I also saw images on television of members of the Argentine team sending up their prayers to heaven before the match. I cannot help but think: They are giving God a hard time. After all, whose prayers will be answered by God? Does He make sure that the Netherlands will win, or does He answer the pleas for help from the Argentines? Which team does God prefer? The dilemma can be compared to praying in wartime. No doubt there are pious Russians now praying to God for victory, so that their boys can return home quickly from the front, but at the same time there are also prayers going up in the Ukraine, begging God to decide the war in their favor. To whom should God listen?
But, anyway: it is nice to see that there are soccer players for whom God still plays an important role in their lives–even if their theology of prayer probably needs some restructuring!