Tonight is the final showdown. The football world champions will be crowned in one of the most spectacular sporting events. But as the FIFA World Cup draws to a close, one cannot help but wonder what is it about sports that uplifts the human soul.
In all honesty, I never have been a big fan of any sport, be it our national games of hockey and cricket, American football, or the ever-popular soccer that has a huge fan following in Pakistan. But at the same time, I cannot evade their influence as well. Even with all my reluctance, I had to sit through the England vs. Italy match which ended in a 2-1 victory for the latter.
Not to mention, this FIFA World Cup held special attraction for Pakistani fans due to the ‘Brazuca’ being manufactured here. This was truly a high-point in a country otherwise torn apart, most recently by the army operation against terrorists in the northern areas.
Anyway, the theme of sport connecting to our innate desire for excellence, competition, pride, and success has been explored in various movies as well:
- In Rocky III, the statue of the boxer stands as a testimony to the ‘indomitable spirit of man’
- In Benhur, it is the (masterfully directed) chariot race that redeems the Hebrew prince
- In Chariots of Fire, the ability to run is seen by the Scottish preacher as gift from God, while his Jewish counterpart runs the Olympics for national pride
Also in Chariots of Fire, we see the Eric Liddell preaching a sermon after a race, where he delves on the use of sports as a symbol of faith by NT writers, St. Paul in particular.
The Believer as Wrestler
12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6)
8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4)
The Believer as Runner
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9)
The Believer as Gladiator
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6)
But perhaps most surprising is the fact that Paul actually uses the theme of sports to describe a life of faith when he says:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
We find many people around us, especially on social media, that are quick to claim that these massive sports events breed on capitalist interests of greed and manipulation, and that this is some kind of massive conspiracy to distract people from the ‘real issues’.
I am not saying that there is no truth to these claims. But ultimately it is not the advertisements, the showgirls, and the fireworks that draw the crowds. It has something to do with sports itself, something so innate that we our forced to leap from our seats and raise our hands in the air, as if we about to touch God Himself.
Enjoy the finals!
- Legendary professional wrestler ‘Shawn Michaels’. His controversial career in the WWE almost came to end in 98’ when he suffered an injury that forced him to stay out of action. During this time, he professed faith in Christianity. In a TBN interview, he stated that while he doesn’t endorse the lifestyle promoted by the WWE, he sees his presence in the company as Joseph’s presence in Pharaoh’s court. He made his comeback 2002, adorning a T-shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’
- Brazilian footballer (Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite) Kaka’s boots. He removed his jersey to reveal an “I Belong to Jesus” t-shirt and openly engaged in prayer moments after the final whistle of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup, and Milan’s 2004 Scudetto and 2007 Champions League triumphs. He also had the same phrase, along with “God Is Faithful,” stitched onto the tongues of his boots. (Wikipedia)
- Eric Liddell, Olympic gold medalist and Scottish missionary to China. At the Paris summer games of 1924, Liddell refused on run heats on Sunday as not to violate his religious heritage. As a result, he had to compete in the 400m dash instead of the shorter 100m race. Before the race began, an American masseur handed him a note which read ‘Those who honor me I will honor’ (1 Samuel 2:30). He ran and won, breaking the existing Olympic and world records with a time of 47.6 seconds in the process.
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About the Author
Suleman, M. John – I am a writer who creates content for clients (and myself as well). I think, read, and surf a lot, but my strong areas of research and writing include religion, history, literature, and online content creation (especially ghostwriting).