Five Reasons You Should Watch the Olympics
What an encouraging day of worship we enjoyed last Sunday! From the singing of such powerful songs as He Will Hold Me Fast, to the corporate recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, there was so much to nourish the soul. I’m already looking forward to this Sunday.
Alright, so you’ve been piling on the couch with the rest of your family this week, taking in the Games of the 31st Olympiad. But as one hour turns into three, you can’t help but think: Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive. Well, let me assuage your guilt and give you five reasons that you should be watching the Summer Games. Of course, these aren’t justifications for ignoring your children, shirking your responsibilities, or letting your grass grow to knee-height! Here goes:
- Sports display the imagination of God. As human beings, we are created in the image of God. Consequently, when we write plays, pen poetry, conduct orchestrations, or clash at various contests (with their respective goals, rules, and obstacles) we are pointing to the God who made us, who is infinitely creative. How else could you possibly explain the inclusion of an international event where people run around a track that just happens to have a fence and a pool inserted into it? Steeplechase, anyone? It makes no sense until you really contemplate the strategy (and then, admittedly, it still makes no sense). But it tells us something about God, namely, that his imagination is endless, and as those made in the imago Dei, we reflect (albeit imperfectly) the unparalleled artistry of our matchless Creator when we come up with and compete at sundry sports.
- Competition is rooted in creation. In Genesis 1, God gives humanity these instructions: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (v.28). One aspect of “filling and subduing” is cultural, which is why the Creation Mandate is also sometimes called the Cultural Mandate. It means that you and I have been tasked with filling out the endless possibilities of creation. Theologian Michael Goheen says, “God gave humanity formative power to explore, discover, and develop the potential of the creation in diverse ways. It is out of this foundational task that sports and athletics have arisen as one cultural product.” Simply put, when we design baseball fields, basketball courts, and soccer stadia, and then play games in those venues, we are fulfilling the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1.
- Team sports showcase a unity worthy of imitating in the body of Christ. Have you noticed how all the USA teams are cheering on their fellow Americans, even of different sports? When a swimmer wins gold, the basketball team erupts with unbridled celebration. And when a gymnast claims the top spot on the podium, the soccer team jumps up and down with sincere pleasure. They are desperate to see each other succeed. This gives us a glimpse into what unity in the body of Christ should look like. People of different backgrounds, sizes, and skill-sets earnestly spurring on one other toward success. How attractive would the church be to a lost world if our concern for each other were that boundless and sincere?
- Sports provide metaphors for our struggle against the flesh. Although sanctification is a work of God—and when spiritual progress does take place, he is the one to be praised—we still must put forth gospel-motivated, faith-fueled, and Spirit-empowered effort. Sports give us a picture of what that effort looks like. The Apostle Paul often used Olympic metaphors, such as running the race (1 Cor 9:24), fighting the good fight (1 Tim 6:12), and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). When we see American gymnast Jake Dalton labor through fatigue to hold the perfect Iron Cross, we are reminded that, likewise, the spiritual battle in which we are entrenched demands focus, intensity, and determination.
- Finally, competition is one of God’s good gifts for us to enjoy. When Jesus’ brother James says that “every good gift is from above” (Jam. 1:17) he is not just talking about tangible things. Laughter and harmonies are gifts from God. So is competitive play. For my wife, there are few things as energizing as an extended breakfast at the Silver Dollar Pancake House with friends. I enjoy that as well, but even more invigorating to me is a competition of some sort. A racquetball match, a basketball game, a chance to take the diamond for a softball game. Competition—even just watching it—refuels me. And this is from God. Nearby pastor Erik Thoennes says: “Play is a fun, imaginative, non-compulsory, non-utilitarian activity filled with creative spontaneity and humor, which gives perspective, diversion, and rest from necessary work of daily life.” Just watching competition is a blessing.
Now, please make no mistake, just as the fall of our first parents sent shock waves of corruption through every aspect of this world, sin has had its way with competition as well. As a pastor, I see the idolatry of sports among believers (and wrestle against it myself). Likewise, as a former Little League baseball and volunteer basketball coach, I have seen the ugly side of competition. One of the most celebrated coaches of all time typified the misguided mindset that many embrace when he said, “To play this game you must have fire in you and there is nothing that stokes that fire like hate” (Vince Lombardi).
Like anything, sports can be used to incite social, spiritual, psychological, and physical harm. But that doesn’t negate the beauty and benefit of a sport well played. And there aren’t too many sports played at a higher level than what we’ve been seeing in Rio. So … relax and enjoy. You might find yourself rejuvenated emotionally and spiritually. You might even learn something about God by watching Michael Phelps swim. It’s an interesting thought, I know, but one that I believe flows from Scripture, as I have tried (in 1000 words!) to persuade here.
By his grace,