A few years ago I was a speaker at a youth camp. When the first group game arrived, one of the leaders began telling a parable based on Genesis 1-3. He described the joys of playing in the Garden of Eden, where the emphasis was simply on the joy of the game. But one day the serpent entered the garden and tempted the inhabitants of Eden with the idea of dots. They gave in to temptation and began to keep score in their games and this led to all sorts of evils – competition, the desire to win, traps, anger and fights. They lost the, simple joy of playing.
The leader told this parable to let the youth know that this week at camp they would be presented with non-competitive games. There were no points, no winners or losers, just the joy of playing. But there was a serious problem: the games were totally and completely boring. Day after day, fewer and fewer young people showed up at the time of the game, so that in the last one there were only a handful of young people.
Is this an exact portrait of a theology of sport? Obviously, I don’t think so. I would like to present a brief and comprehensive theology of sport. If you don’t like that title, you can think of it as: “Why should we watch the Super Bowl?
The story can be summed up in three words: creation, fall, and redemption. So when you’re looking at the theology of a subject you need to ask yourself: What is its relationship or reflection of creation, of fall, of redemption? In considering the subject of sports, I have added two more words to expand our consideration – incarnation and salvation (both of which are, of course, linked to creation, fall, and redemption).
Creation – God could have created everything to be gray and useful. Rather, He created a great diversity of color, size, shape, smell, texture, sounds and flavors. Why did He do this? He did it so that creation would be a reflection of his person and, in particular, of his beauty. It is a masterpiece of function and form. Creation is a work of art.
Sometimes it is thought that art consists of two types: visual art – such as painting, sculpture, architecture, and performing art – such as theater, music, and dance. The Lord included both visual and performing arts in creation. Visual art: flowers, mountains, trees; Scenic art: oceans and rivers, planetary orbits, clouds. Some things in creation combine the two.
Sport is a reflection of this creative activity of the Lord. It also combines visual arts (painted fields and fields, team colors and logos) and performing arts (the work itself). Sport reflects the function and form of creation. There is beauty in a play that runs perfectly, in a well-thrown ball, in a diving catch, in turning a double play. These things can bring emotion and happiness because they are a reflection of the way the world was created to be. They are a display of art (or art, if you prefer).
The Lord also created things in a specific order, not at random, and placed within the creation laws or rules by which nature operates. Sports also have an order for them and have rules by which they operate. Just as there are consequences for rebelling against the created order (such as ignoring gravity), there are also consequences for not following the rules in sports. Sports reflect nature and the principles of creation. As in nature, this reflection, when done well, honors the Lord and gives joy to the enthusiast.
Fall – In the fall, man rebelled for sin and the curse that resulted from that fall touches every part of everything – there is nothing to escape. This means that we expect to see evidence of the fall of the sport and, of course, we do. There are sins of attitude as well as sins of action.
The deadliest of these sins is the idolatry of sport, when it occupies the highest place in the affection of the heart and in the thought of the mind. When life is planned when games are played or when a person’s whole perspective is affected by whether his team wins or loses, he has crossed the line in an unhealthy and sinful obsession.
There are also other wrong attitudes – when winning becomes the only thing that matters, when a person does whatever it takes to succeed, when personal glory becomes the end, when people become arrogant or angry. These are all the sins of the fall. The fall is reflected in sport with actions such as the use of steroids, fixation games, plugging bats, bank emptying fights and endless other things.
Incarnation – We are incarnated beings and the incarnation validates that our bodies are more than mere recipients for our souls. Even our eternal state will consist of bodies – glorified bodies, but bodies nonetheless.