Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who Invited God to the Ballgame?

I saw an article over at CNN the other day dealing with God, sports, and the connection between the two. It was pretty much standard fare when it comes to this discussion. It seems that whenever this topic comes up, the idea put forth is that if Christians thank Jesus after a sporting event, they are tacitly suggesting that Jesus likes them more than their opponent, or at least that their faith is better/stronger than that of their opponent.

One of the reasons that the general public has this perception is because so many athletes not only project it, they actually believe it. The problem is that this brand of “Christianity” is not only terribly simplistic, it is unbiblical and incorrect.

Does God care about sports? Of course he does! God cares about our whole existence. As Abraham Kuyper famously put it, "There is not one square inch of creation over which Jesus does not proclaim, 'Mine!'" So do I mean to say that God is sovereign, even over who wins and loses sporting events? Yes! That's exactly what I mean to say! God is sovereign over all of creation.

Does the fact that one team won a game mean then that God likes them more or that they have more faith? Absolutely not! To believe this unnecessarily (and quite contrarily to the Gospel) binds what we get to what we deserve. The fact of the matter is though, we all deserve to lose. God, in his mercy, chooses some to be winners in spite of what they deserve. This has nothing to do with our merit and everything to do with God’s grace. A right response to winning a ballgame is indeed to give God thanks. But it should be done without a single hint that the gift he gave you was in any way merited.

Likewise, God is still just as good when he bestows the gifts upon our opponents, and should be glorified as such in those times as well. I thought Colt McCoy did a great job of this after the NCAA Football national championship game last January. Though his team had lost, though he had missed almost the entire game due to injury, though his college career had ended moments before and he was quite clearly gripped with disappointment at the way things had gone, he still managed to give glory to God.

I’ve been asked before if I think there will be baseball in Heaven (or perhaps more appropriately in the New Heavens and the New Earth). When I respond affirmatively, people ask me how this could be, when one team inevitably will lose each game. Fans and players alike would be grieved about this, and whether or not Tom Hanks was right about there being no crying in baseball, we know that the Apostle John was right that there will be no crying in heaven (Revelation 21:4).

The key is this: When we play sports in this creation, especially at the highest levels of competition, our ultimate goal usually is to win. In our sinless re-creation, our ultimate goal will be the glory of God. That means if I work as hard as I can to prepare and the pitcher strikes me out anyway, I will rejoice at the fact that God has so gifted another individual, who happens to be my brother in Christ.

My prayer is that Christian athletes (and all other Christians for that matter, starting with myself) can live their lives here a little more like we will live them in the hereafter.


Kevin said...

Colt McCoy's words were in line with what I've been waiting to hear from Christian athletes, giving thanks to God in defeat. As you rightly point out, sports victories are superfluous in the scope of eternity. So, to rephrase Paul, "If we win, we win unto the Lord and if we lose, we lose unto the Lord. So whether we win or lose, we belong to the Lord."

Pete Scribner said...

Well stated, Kevin. Thanks for the contribution.

mike wittmer said...

Giving glory to God when the pitcher strikes us out? Sounds like the new earth will be populated with Cleveland Indians! Just kidding, we all know that God hates athletes in Cleveland, and especially their fans.

Good post, and right on the money. The best thing is on the new earth we will all play rather than pay to watch professionals exercise.

Pete Scribner said...

Thanks for the input Mike. For what it's worth, I'm pulling for Lebron to stay in Cleveland. And maybe God will reward Colt McCoy's good theology with a Super Bowl championship for the Browns!

Craig said...

Gave you some link love on this one, Pete. Good stuff. Thanks.


Excellent post with I came by wat of Jared Wilson's blog. I especially liked Kuper's quote and your final statement about how athletes can model the understanding of God's sovereignty. Colt is a great example of this.

Pete Scribner said...

Thanks, Steve. I, like you I'm sure, enjoy Jared's blog a great deal. God's blessings upon you as you serve Him!

Kurt Earl said...

Very good stuff here. I have an entire blog dedicated to this particular problem. As Christians we have to think more critically about our motivation and our purpose when engaging in athletics as athletes, coaches, officials, fans, etc.