The 2014 World Cup has concluded and soccer fans were everywhere this summer. Wherever a game was played you found thousands of people dressed and painted in the colors of their national team, ready to vibrate with joy or rend their garments in agony.
In the Grip of Sports
World Cup soccer fans are not that different from fans of other sports, though they may maintain they are more passionate. They are loud. They are hopeful. They are enthusiastic. They are convinced that the referee is either blind or guilty of taking bribes. And they are largely male.
In my observation, men love contests of all sorts. We may play in recreational basketball leagues, dabble in online poker, or play a tad too agressively against our children in Connect Four. But the most obvious way we engage in contests is by following sports.
What does this say about us? We crave challenge and long for victory, but we are often content chasing wins through the experiences of others.
When the main conquest in a man’s life is living vicariously through the contest of other men, he has become the victim of a great deceit. Living for the next game, which many men do, won’t give us life. (Bond of Brothers, p.52)
Toward What End?
This vicarious living through other men has a high cost. What do we have to show for all of the hours we spend watching professional sports? Add to that count any time spent viewing, listening, or reading “experts” discuss and analyze our favorite players and teams and you may be embarrassed at the way your activities reveal your priorities. Jesus calls us to follow Him but we insist that we must first watch our team bury their rivals. (Luke 9:59)
Why is it that men love sports so much? If we love sports but acknowledge they can too easily become all-consuming, should we just pitch our fandom out the window? Or does our love for sports point to something deeper? Does it perhaps tell us something about the way God has made us?
Maybe there is something about man that desires contest, struggle, and competition. Maybe God made us with the ability and inclination to test ourselves and join a conflict. Maybe the desire to emerge victorious, in a like-minded community, after a hard-fought battle, isn’t just a silly sports trope. Maybe, in fact, this part of the image of God in us is kindled by athletic competitions but wasted if it remains in the realm of mascots, jerseys, and earthly trophies.
We can and should channel this desire within us. We can point it to a single end: the glory of God. As redeemed men, this is now our goal: to proclaim the glory of God through Jesus Christ to all the world. We now call men and women to bow the knee before King Jesus, exposing the folly and rebellion of worship directed elsewhere (even/especially when we see it in ourselves). We now fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We now train, endure, and resist temptation. We are in the midst of a great contest and the fact that the outcome is certain doesn’t diminish the struggle and the competition at all. We can reveal with our time, our affections, and our lives the most valuable prize in all the world. (See Rev 3:21, Luke 6:35, 1 Cor 3:14, Col 3:23,24, and Heb 10:34–36.)
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