Hope in the Lord, Not the Patriots, the Giants, and Definitely Not the Cowboys
With the kick-off of the new NFL season, we wanted to launch our own season: a “Season of Inspiration.” Since we’re in Texas, where football is such a mighty part of the fall landscape, we thought it’d be fun to reflect on God from the gridiron. So each weekend over the course of the season we will feature an Inspiration piece sparked by football, however tangentially. Could be a game, a player, a memory, a news account, an athlete’s testimony, a sports movie, even a Scripture-quoting mascot. We leave that to the Stream writers who’ve joined the team and the Lord’s inspiration.
We hope this series is a blessing.
It’s just football, so it doesn’t really matter. You think your favorite football team is better than it is. A couple years ago, some psychologists asked people how many games their favorite team would win. The average prediction was 9.6 wins. That’s 307 wins all told. Which is impossible because the NFL only plays 256 games.
It’s called “optimism bias.” In football, no big deal. Your team will disappoint you, but okay. And if you’re a Patriots fan, you may just be realistic, despite last Thursday’s opener. Or a Giants fan, because they might make the Super Bowl. If you’re a Cowboys fan, just saying, that’s not optimism, that’s trusting in the powers of darkness.
But in football, as I say, mostly no big deal. In life, a big problem. In religion, a huge mistake. The road to Hell isn’t paved with good intentions. It’s paved with optimism bias.
Our Dangerous Optimism Bias
By “optimism bias,” the psychologists mean the human tendency to overestimate how good things are going to work for you and underestimate how bad things can be. Pretty much everyone feels like this about their lives, not just their favorite football teams. We even think our friends are better than average.
You can see how optimism bias can end in tears. That pain in your chest? Probably just heartburn. Gobble some antacids. That ache in your spine? Probably just a sprain. Lie down on the heating pad. Don’t need to see the doctor. You’re probably right. But you might be wrong. And if you’re wrong, you could die.
It’s not just your own life you’re messing with. You matter to a wife or husband or children. To your friends. To the people at your church and your neighbors. You matter to the people you help at the places you volunteer. To some of the people you work with.
We can think of many other examples. The person hits the gas to beat a red light and a car crossing from the side broadsides him. The guy working construction who ignores the safety regulations and gets badly hurt.
Someone else comes into work late and leaves early because he thinks the boss doesn’t care, and the boss does care and fires him. Another guy cheats on his taxes because whoever gets audited? Truth is for suckers! And a steely-eyed IRS agent audits him.
So why do we think like this? Are we careless? Certainly. Stupid? Probably. Selfish? Usually.
Optimism and the Christian Faith
What does this have to do with the Christian faith? This: Christianity does not offer you optimism. It is not affected by optimism bias. God knows exactly who and what you are. He loves you so much that He sent His only-begotten Son, but He’s got you cold.
Christianity tells you to face the facts without putting a positive spin on them. You’re not that good a driver. You can get cancer. You can get hurt at work. Your boss will fire you. The IRS will catch you.
You’re a sinner in need of grace. However optimistic you feel about yourself, you’ll die in your sins without God’s grace.
Christianity is hopeful. That’s far better good news than we get from human optimism, especially since we tend to be more optimistic than we should. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope this way: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, we hope for the best possible outcome and we have good reason to believe we shall get it. We can be optimistic or pessimistic about our lives. It doesn’t much matter. What matters is what God has done for us and has promised to do for us. Believing that he’ll do what he has said he’ll do is what the Church calls “hope.” He knows exactly who and what we are and sent His only-begotten Son that we should not perish but have everlasting life.
You might say that we hope to win the eternal Super Bowl because we’re on the team that’s guaranteed to win every year for ever and ever. Even the Patriots can’t do that.