A Brief Theology of the Sports
Many years ago, I was a young speaker at a camp. One of the leaders told a parable based upon Genesis 1-3 when the group’s first game time began. He described the joy of playing games in Eden, where the emphasis is on the fun of play. The serpent entered the Eden-dwellers’ garden one day and offered them points. They gave in to temptation and began to keep score in the games. This lead to all sorts of evils including cheating, anger, jealousy, and even fights. They lost the pure joy that comes with playing.
This parable was used by the leader to let the youngsters know that they would be introduced at camp to non-competitive activities. There were no winners or losers. Just the joy of having fun. There was one problem. The games were boring. The number of young people attending the game time decreased day by day until there was only a handful of them at the last one.
Is this a fair portrayal of a sports theology. It is not, evidently. I would like to give a brief but broad theology on sports. If that title doesn’t appeal to you, you might think about it as: “Why should we watch the Super Bowl!”
History can be summarized in three words: Creation, Fall and Redeem. Theology should be viewed in relation to the creation, fall and redemption. To further expand our understanding of the issue of sports, I have added two words to my discussion – incarnation & salvation. These are both tied to creation and fall as well as redemption.
God could have created all things to be grey and serviceable. Instead, He created a wide range of colors, sizes and shapes. Why did He do that? He did this so that the creation would reflect His person and, more specifically, His beauty. It is a masterpiece of form and function. The creation is a piece of art.
Sometimes art can be described as having two types. One is visual art which includes sculpture, painting and architecture; the other is performing art which includes music, drama, dance, and music. The Lord used both visual and performing arts in his creation. Visual Art includes flowers, trees, mountains and other natural objects. Performing art includes oceans and rivers, planetary orbs, clouds, and oceans. Some items in creation combine the two.
Sports reflect this creative activity of our Lord. They also include visual art (painted surfaces, team colors and logos), as well performing arts (the actual performance). Sports reflect the function, form and purpose of creation. It is possible to find beauty in a play that has been run perfectly, such as a well-thrown baseball, or in a diving catch. Because they reflect the way the world was designed, those things can bring joy and excitement. They are an expression of art (or artistry if you prefer).
The Lord created things in a precise order. Not in an arbitrary way. Sports have their own order and operate according to rules. There are consequences for violating the established order, such as disregarding gravity. The same applies to sports. Sports reflect the essence and principles of creation. This reflection, when done properly, honors the Lord, and gives joy to the fan.
Fall – In the fall, man rebelled against sin. The curse which results from that fall touches every aspect of every thing. There is no escape. The fall is evident in sports, which we expect. There are both sins of attitude and sins in action.
The greatest sin of all is idolatry of sport – when it has the highest regard in the heart and the mind. It is dangerous to plan your life around games or limit your outlook on the outcome of each game.
There are other wrong attitudes. These are all sins. The fall can be seen in sports through actions like the fixing of games, using steroids and corking bats.
Incarnation-We are embodied beings. The incarnation validates the fact that our bodies are much more than containers for our hearts. Even our immortal state will contain bodies – glorified but not inhumane bodies. The Christian life isn’t about condemning the body. It’s about bringing the body under His stewardship to honor the Lord.
Sport is one thing that helps us do that. The discipline required to play a sport is important. Sports require perseverance, determination, delayed gratification and a toughening of the body. Sports can teach how you work together with others, how much to push the limits, how important it is to listen to your team and how to motivate those who are not naturally gifted. They teach patience. Even the time you spend on the bench is a sanctifying experience.
Sports are one way to honor the truths and realities of the incarnation.
Salvation is a drama. Effective drama relies on knowledge, motion, timing and timing. The Lord had a game plan before the start of time, which is the basis of the drama of salvation. This game-plan was created at the creation. We now know this as the people and events in unfolding history. And all of this was done in God’s time – Galatians says that Christ came in the fullness. It continues today. C.S. It is what Lewis called the true myth.
Actors/actresses today must be able to read their lines (knowledge), know where they are supposed (motion) and know when and how they are to perform their parts (timing). Dramatists with great acting skills also have the ability to create a sense of myth.
This is how sports reflect the dramatic notions of knowledge, motion, and time. Sports have many strategies and plays that show the knowledge. You can see the action in the execution of those strategies. However, they will only succeed if everyone is on the same page. Sports can be described as drama, but they also have a mythic side. Sports appeal may also be due to their universality, as they are an integral part of everyday life. Others would argue that sports are more than entertainment. They have a profound and vital role to play in the lives, as well as a meaningful and important place in our daily lives.
Christ’s sacrifice of his body and blood is the center of our salvation.
Sports are the only area in life where your body can be used for the good and benefit of others. Many sports involve the giving up of your body for the benefit of others. This is a display for the gospel.
Redemption – Redemption refers to the pleasure of restoration. When the redemption is completed at the consummation, it becomes glorification. It will be joy unbridled. The gifts of grace are the delights and joys of this life. Although they don’t always satisfy, they offer a glimpse into what true satisfaction might look like.
Fans love sports. It is a gift that brings joy, delight, and sometimes disappointment. We learn how we can deal with it in a healthy and godly manner. They should be appreciated for what they are: a gift in grace. While the pleasure is never lasting or permanent, it does give us the opportunity to experience that full satisfaction that causes us not to want more. Although a sport can be enjoyable by itself, it also points to the desire for more. This greater purpose can be seen by a sports fan who views the sport from a biblical perspective. Temporal enjoyment may be a gift, but not an end. It is dangerous to treat it as an end. We need to learn how to experience joy as part of God’s purpose.
We are called to make sports like all other things in our lives obedient and to take them captive. Sports participation and viewing sports can be transformed if we consider them as an extension of God’s grace.
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