For several reasons I’ve wanted to capture some of my thoughts on why people love sports so much: (1) I myself love sports, so this is sort of a self-reflection project. (2) I have a lot of opportunities to speak to sports teams about the gospel and following Jesus, so I’d like to base a few of these “talks” on some blog posts. (3) Dawning upon us is another longed for football season, and as excitement for the new season increases, our love for sports is especially on my mind.
So why do we love sports? Why is baseball our “national pastime” (and football our “national passion“)? Why do we so willingly spend our money on sports and give our time to sports? Why do sports affect us so much, whether for joy, anger, or sadness? Why do we care so much about sports?
Well, I don’t pretend that there’s a simple answer to this question. For different people, there are different answers. However, as I’ve considered our love for sports, there a few motivational factors that I’m convinced have a broad influence as to why sports are so appealing for humans. So over the next few weeks I plan to elaborate on my conclusions. And the first of these compelling elements of sports is Glory.
It had been a long, exhausting game. Exhausting even for the spectators, let alone the players themselves. The dim, late afternoon kickoff had progressed into a dark, late November night. And as the sun went lower, our blood pressure went higher. So much was on the line: pride, championships, and (most importantly) bragging rights. Thankfully, the game clock was under a minute left. Within 15-20 minutes the panic would all be over, and we could finally get this behind us, whether in joy or gloom. Un-thankfully, my team was down by two points. All the opposing offense had to do was run out the clock, and our dreams would be dashed. But (wonder of wonders!) they fumbled! Ed Scissum coughed up the ball, Quenton Reese fell on top of it, and Jarrett Holmes (one of my favorite players in Auburn football history) shot a field goal through for the victory! SEC West champs! Iron Bowl champs! Glory!
The scene that followed Jarrett Holmes’ triumphant field goal was, nothing short of, glorious. An ecstatic pandemonium filled Jordan-Hare Stadium, and spine-tingling joy filled the hearts of all 90,000 fans. I still remember embracing my brother, high-fiving my father, and chanting “S-E-C! S-E-C!” with the hords of people pressed all around us. There was a weightiness to this moment. There was a magnitude in the atmosphere. There was a sense of arrival, of ultimacy, of splendor. On that football field, in that sports arena, we tasted glory.
This scene is not unlike many others that happen each season for every sport. And these experiences of glory (or the potential of experiencing them) are one of the main reasons we are so drawn after sports. Human beings are glory-chasers. Whether it’s climbing mountains, racing to the moon, exploring creation, solving problems, building buildings, growing empires, creating art, developing technologies, composing music, crafting cuisine, writing epics, people are after glory. We want to behold breathtaking greatness. We crave an encounter with the transcendent. Another way to say this is, we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. That “something” I’m calling glory. We want to be a part of something glorious, or we want to be a part of something that will take us to the glorious. And, as my testimony above indicates, sports are a means for reaching glory. And thus, we love sports.
Now how does all of this relate to Christianity and the gospel of Jesus?
The glory-chasing nature of human beings is exactly in line with what the Bible teaches about mankind. God created us to experience glory, namely, his own glory (Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 1:3-6). God formed us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, namely, subduing the creation (Genesis 1:28), filling the earth with the knowledge of his glory (Habakkuk 2:14), and completing Jesus’ worldwide, disciple-making mission (Matthew 28:18-20). And God leads history toward an unimaginably satisfying ending, namely, the new heavens and new earth, where the sun and moon will no longer be needed because the glory of God will be its light (Revelation 21:23). This is the glory were made for.
Distinct from all the rest of creation, humans have the capacity to know God and exult in his glory. “You, Yahweh, are my glory” (Psalm 3:3). “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory” (Psalm 63:3). “Sing the glory of God’s name; give to him glorious praise!” (Psalm 66:2) “Glory in Yahweh’s holy name!” (Psalm 105:3) Our glory-starved condition is only ultimately realized when our pursuit for glory is aimed at the God of the universe. (And the glory we seek through sports is a faint echo of God’s design for us to experience his glory.)
Tragically, the Scriptures teach that our created design hasn’t been realized: “Men have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). In other words, the divine means for obtaining glory have been exchanged with creaturely means. All of us in our own way(s), have substituted the Creator’s majesty for man’s. As the Apostle later said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
And a big part of my own story is the way I used sports (especially football) as my glory substitute. I “fell short” of God’s glory by giving my deepest love to football and glorying therein. I don’t mean to project my own story on to anybody else. Sports can be enjoyed to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). And amazingly there’s good news for people like me who’ve fallen short in this: God sent Jesus to live the life we should have lived, a life perfectly treasuring God’s glory. Then Jesus died the death we should have died, suffering in the place of glory-thieving sinners like me. And then Jesus rose from the grave, gloriously triumphing over sin and death. And now all who repent of sin and trust in him are enabled by his Spirit to live God glorifying lives in all our activity, including sports (Colossians 3:17).
So the next time you experience the glory of sports, the splendor of victory, and the magnitude of a championship celebration, remember that moments like those are only a distant echo of the glory we were made to experience. Glory-filled moments on the athletic field are mere indicators that our hearts were made for more. Our truest and most satisfying tastes of glory happen as we believe and behold “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).