Damar Hamlin and Our Knowledge of God

By Alex Chediak Published on January 8, 2023

Did you know that football was — by far — the most popular thing Americans watched on TV last year? Of the 100 most viewed broadcasts of 2022, 88 of them were football. And 83 of those 88 broadcasts were NFL games. If you’re my age, you’ve seen the launch of Sunday night football (1987), Thursday night football (2006), and a third nationally televised game added to Thanksgiving Day (2006). When it comes to viewing, football is America’s pastime.

Which means that tens of millions of viewers were tuned in when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suddenly collapsed from cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football. Millions more saw it on the replay. It was the first time in history that a regular season NFL game was suspended mid-play.

But what struck me most about the ordeal, tuning in the next day, was how immediate and widespread the public prayers were for Hamlin. The images of the entire Buffalo Bills team on the field, each taking a knee, praying for their teammate. The Bengals players, along with coaches and staff, joining in at midfield as the ambulance drove Hamlin away. The fans in attendance, those following on social media, offering prayers. Saturday night’s kickoff between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars was even preceded by a massive group prayer involving both teams.

Did it strike you how instinctively the sports world turned to prayer in this awful moment? Former quarterback-turned-ESPN broadcaster Dan Orlovsky actually paused on national television, bowed his head, and prayed out loud over the airwaves. His two co-anchors likewise bowed their heads, the camera zooming out to get a wider shot, the three each ending the prayer with an audible, respectful “amen.” Wow.

What can we take away from this event? I think there are at least three observations.

God Has Not Left Himself Without Witness

Every human being instinctively knows that there’s a God in heaven, who alone is in control, who alone is our only hope, and who is both personal and accessible to us. We can suppress this innate knowledge, focusing on our busy lives, as if this world were all that mattered. But it has its way of popping up, especially in moments of crisis. Think about how church attendance shot up in the weeks after 9/11. Especially in New York City. The human soul has a way of crying out to its Maker in moments of pain, of loss, of confusion.

There are many passages in Scripture that speak to the fact that God has not left Himself without witness. Let’s start with Acts 14:17. Paul and Barnabas are at Lystra. Paul heals a cripple. The locals decide that Zeus and Hermes have come down among them. Paul rebuts this: “We also are men, of like nature with you.” Those in Lystra should turn to “a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” This God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving your rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

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Or this: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:26-27). God is not far, but near! He sustains our lives, moment by moment. He has determined the precise period of our lifespan.

You have to be a fool to deny the reality of God (Psalm 14:1). The atheist’s ignorance is not legit. It’s more like an ignoring of what is plain as day. “For his (God’s) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Man’s Dignity

The second observation is our universal knowledge of man’s dignity. Think about all that goes into a Monday Night Football game. All the financial interests at stake. You’ve got the league, the teams, the TV rights, the advertisers, etc. Now consider the importance of this particular game. The playoff picture: The Bills and the Bengals are among the top teams this year. Yet the entire game stopped immediately because one man’s life was hanging by a thread.

It was the decent thing to do, of course. But why? Because every human being has dignity and worth. Why? Because of our relation to God. We’re made in His image, crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). Apart from God, would we have dignity and worth? If we’re just physical collections of molecules, randomly assembled, luckily possessing functionality for 80 years or so, would human life really matter, in an objective sense? No. God is the basis for human dignity. God is the reason why every life matters. It’s why they urge us to pray for Damar Hamlin.    

Speak Freely

The last observation is that there are apparently many people in the world of sports and media that have sincere religious convictions. The Christian faith is more but not less than the items above. We would appeal to universally accepted moral truths, like the Golden Rule, to our sense of conscience, of guilt, and of justice (John 16:8, Acts 24:24-25, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ is the only way to God because he alone lived a perfect life and then died in the place of the guilty. 

Here’s the thing though. How many of us, in the public square, are willing to speak freely of our faith? Not obnoxiously or in a way that’s pushy and aggressive. But naturally, openly, without shame, as something that’s real, precious, the foundation of our values, the anchor of our souls, and the source of our hope. If more of us did, it would likely embolden others to do likewise.

God has not left Himself without witness. Let us also bear witness, in word and deed.

 

Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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