What began as a spontaneous moment of faith has formed into a new habit of public prayer in the National Football League (NFL).
As Damar Hamlin was being rushed off of the field in an ambulance on the evening of January 2 – shortly after suffering cardiac arrest during the Buffalo Bills v. Cincinnati Bengals game – dozens of NFL players and coaches took a knee on-field and prayed together.
By January 3, all 32 NFL teams had changed their Twitter profile pictures to read: “Pray for Damar.”
The same day, around 150 Bills fans gathered at Highmark Stadium – home of the Buffalo Bills, to pray for Damar.
Shortly thereafter, former NFL player Dan Orlovsky, now an analyst at ESPN, decided to pray out loud while live on the national sports network.
“We want answers to some things that are unanswerable,” Orlovsky prayed. “We just want to pray, truly come to you, to pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar. Be with his family. Give them peace.”
But what may have at first appeared to be a short spurt of prayer, caused by the shock and distress of Hamlin’s collapse, so far seems to have continued in the NFL.
On Sunday, January 8, just before the Denver Broncos v. Los Angeles Chargers game, two players from opposing teams met at midfield to pray.
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and Chargers safety Derwin James met and knelt at midfield to pray. Both players wear the No. 3 jersey for their respective teams – the same number as Damar Hamlin.
You can watch the short moment of prayer below:
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 8, 2023
On Saturday, January 7, dozens of members from the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars gathered together at midfield to take a knee and pray for Damar Hamlin before their game’s kickoff.
The moment seemed to be as heartfelt as it is moving, and you can watch it below:
In addition, also on January 7, Damar Hamlin himself tweeted his thanks to everyone who has reached out to him and prayed for him. He tweeted:
Putting love into the world comes back 3xs as much… thankful for everyone who has reached out and prayed. This will make me stronger on the road to recovery, keep praying for me! 🏾3️⃣
— 𝐃𝐚𝐦𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐚𝐦𝐥𝐢𝐧 (@HamlinIsland) January 7, 2023
In a separate tweet, he wrote, “The love is felt, & extremely real. No matter race or religion everybody coming together in prayer!”
The next day, prior to kickoff in the Buffalo Bills v. New England Patriots game, Hamlin said that he wanted nothing more “than to be running out that tunnel with my brothers.” However, he noted, “God using me in a different way today. Tell someone you love them today.”
On Monday, January 9, Hamlin announced that he was back in Buffalo, New York after being discharged from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. However, Hamlin hasn’t been completely released from the medical system yet as he has been transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center.
Sometimes, as the resurgence of public prayer in the NFL shows, it takes a crisis to rouse us from our routine and turn our focus to God.
There’s an age-old question that theists and atheists, believers and skeptics alike have been asking down through the ages: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” Likewise, for millennia people of faith have asked, “Why does an all good and all powerful God permit the existence of evil in the world?
By all accounts, Damar Hamlin is a good man. He attended Central Catholic High School in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and spoke about his faith while in college, saying, “My faith is in God. So, whatever He has planned for me, that’ll be it.”
Hamlin is also close with his family, saying in an interview, “I’m big on my family unit. My mom, my dad, my little brother – that’s pretty much my whole world … Any other thing going on in my life revolves around them.”
So, why would God allow this frightening and difficult thing to happen to Damar and his family?
In the book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, pastor Tim Keller examines Christianity’s answer to the problem that pain and suffering poses.
Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhim, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful.
There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.
Is that what we’re seeing with Damar Hamlin’s sufferings?
Is God using his pain to draw thousands of people closer to him?
It certainly seems like it.
Keller then adds this key point:
While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.
So, while we can’t know why God permits every instance of evil and suffering in the world, at least this side of eternity, we can have hope and find purpose through our suffering.
And even more so, God chose to take on our humanity and enter into our world in the person of Jesus Christ and His incarnation. God is not far off, looking down at us and our misery from afar. Rather, He’s entered our world and chosen to suffer with us, for us, and because of us.
That’s a God we can trust in.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).
If you want to purchase a copy of pastor Keller’s book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, you can visit the Focus on the Family Store here.
Photo from YouTube.