Faith and Football
As a Christian, I am passionate about Jesus. About living for him, about teaching his way with fellow believers and about sharing him with non-believers. I have accepted Jesus as Lord and I accept that he is the only one who can truly solve this world’s problems and unify creation.
That’s the Bible’s position on the matter and I believe it.
However the Bible also makes it clear that humanity is not particularly interested in being unified in Christ. This is a difficult teaching, because we like to think we are a reasonable type of race, but Scripture is clear: we have been corrupted from the beginning and that corruption now inclines us to avoid God, not run to him.1
In order for this problem to be overcome, God does a special work in people. He pours out his Holy Spirit who goes to work creating a change in the human condition so that it is possible to see the light and not be afraid.
Before he does this work, it is not even possible to know God because we are spiritually dead (see Ephesians 2:1). Then, the extraordinary work begins.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
There it is: God “made us alive”. We did not revive or resuscitate ourselves. God did it and unless he does this we remain dead spiritually.
That puts into perspective all our feeble attempts at visible unity. Humanity has a natural desire to congregate and then to fight. It’s part of the human condition which is marred by sin.
In my opinion, the greatest human unifying force in the world is football. Everyone plays it and there is no country genetically predisposed to do well at it. Some countries do better than others at it because they are devoted to it: it is their religion. But no country automatically dominates because of their genetic makeup.
This cannot be said about many other sports. Black athletes dominate the explosive power sports; boxing and sprinting. Islanders dominate Rugby League. White folks dominate swimming.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason for all this except a natural build for it. Others can do well in each of those sports dominated by a select group, but athletes tend to advance quickly in the sports they are naturally good at.
World football is different. It doesn’t matter if you are European, African, South American, Scandinavian, Asian or Aussie; you have a fighting chance. Your performance will probably depend on your country’s financial investment more than your physical appearance.
Football is played by Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Atheists, Hindus & Buddhists equally well. It has been said that FIFA (the game’s world wide governing body) has far more power than even the United Nations because every nation wants to be included in its program. Yes, even the ‘baddies’ like Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.
That gives FIFA enormous influence in the world. It becomes a central player in world affairs and it is a well known maxim that football is the world’s religion. It is also constantly fighting off the more unsavory elements which hang around anything which money flows through.
If I were to infiltrate one organization in the world with a view to making contact with as many countries as possible, it would be FIFA. They are that big.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider what happened earlier this year when the Iranian Football Federation decided to send out new year’s greetings to its mates around the world. A senior official, who was probably in a hurry to get to a party, accidentally sent a ‘happy new year’ greeting to Israel's football federation.
The problem is they are supposed to be mortal enemies whose political leaders have steadfastly refused permission for the two to play each other.
In reply Israeli football officials sent similar good wishes to, in their words, ''all the good people of Iran''. They ended the message with an email wink.
Amazing. Unity within football, but warfare in politics. That’s a picture of the human condition. We have the natural tendency to congregate but when we do there is strife.
Jesus is the answer
As great as the game is (my first match of the season is tonight!), football is not the answer to the world’s problems. In fact, it may cause as many problems as it solves, who knows?
The Bible teaches Jesus is the answer and our entry point to him is the gospel: the good news that God has done everything required for us to have a relationship with him. He has dealt with sin, death and eternity.
Just as the gospel has unified the enormous division between Jew & Gentile, it does the same with all nations. In fact, the Bible knows of only two people groups; Jew & Gentile. If those two can be reconciled in Christ, then the factions within them certainly can.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18)
That is the unity we should be striving for as Christians for it is the only unity which has a chance of surviving. And survive it will.
Not that playing football should be avoided in the meantime. I began my stellar career in a church soccer team. Faith and football: what a combination!
1. See in particular the comment Jesus makes to Nicodemus in John 3:19-20. There is no escaping his judgement on the matter: we run the other way when we see the light. That is the human condition and any teaching which suggests otherwise is wrong. People do search, certainly, but that search cannot lead anywhere unless God’s Holy Spirit is playing his part.