Sports and Idolatry – In Part 1, Part 2 an Part 3 of “How do you know when sports are an idol?”, I have tried to make this connection and equip you to deal with this idolatry. I contend that three ideas are important to embrace when discussing sports and idolatry. They are
1) Assume sports are an idol
2) Examine our deep emotions around sports – especially our anger
3) Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory
In this post, I want to unpack the third idea – Own the passions of our heart – especially for our own glory.
When I examine the deeper emotions surrounding my sports, one of the things I find when I go beneath even the deep beliefs in my heart is a passionate drive to excel or win. If I probe around about that longing, I discover this longing to excel is really a longing for glory – for greatness and the recognition by others of that greatness.
This is where it gets both interesting and hard. If I am really honest, even as a Christ follower this longing for glory is not very often about God’s glory but instead is very often about my glory. I want what winning and sports’ achievements bring from our culture – the respect, the honor, the admiration, the trophies – or, in other words, the glory, my glory.
It is hard to acknowledge this because to do so shows the self-centeredness of my heart – the orientation of my longings toward me.
It is interesting to think about this orientation in light of God’s original design in Creation and the corruption from the Fall. We were created with glory, the glory of being made in the image of God, to represent God before all of creation. This greatness was bestowed on mankind by God and was intrinsic. We were to express this intrinsic glory as we moved in the fulfillment of the Dominion Mandate – to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. At this point, the orientation of our hearts’ longings was toward God and his glory.
However, in our pursuit to be “like God” without God, to experience the shalom of the Garden while being morally autonomous, in the Fall we sinned and lost our glory. We now “fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
One of the results was to turn the orientation of our hearts away from God and toward other things and ultimately toward ourselves. Paul says it this way in Romans 1:25 – “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever to be praised. Amen.” Paul is saying we worship or look to other things, including sports, rather to God for the fulfillment of our heart’s desires.
But he also is saying more. He is saying our hearts got reoriented. No, actually they got broken. Not broken like in being hurt but broken as in not working right. They are drawn away from God and to “idols” to satisfy these deep longings. When I understand this reality, I recognize that possibly the greatest struggle in dealing with the idol of sports is the struggle I have with ME – my self-centeredness, my selfish orientation to my heart’s longings, and in particular my pursuit of my own glory. At the core of diagnosing the idols of my heart in sports is this acknowledgement. My heart is broken – foolishly oriented to other things than God in my pursuit of glory.
Now the good news of the Gospel is that God not only forgives of all this idolatry, he also gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh that is alive to God, replacing our broken one, the cold, lifeless heart of stone. (See Ezekiel 36: 22-32) He makes it possible for us to experience not only our behavior to be modified in our sports, but for our hearts and the behavior they drive in our sports to be transformed.
This transformation doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process but this transformation process can be actuated in the exposing environment of sports if we move toward confession (acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the deep lies and self-centeredness driving us), repentance (the turning away from wrongdoing, the lies and the self-centeredness at work), and faith (embracing the truth in the place of those lies and moving in God-centeredness) in our sports, all the while asking God to enact this transformation of our hearts that he alone can bring about.
While the disease of sports idolatry is never fully overcome in this life, we can make progress in stemming the spread and actually reducing the impact.
So for the glory of God in redeemed sports, lets agree to 1) assume sports are an idol 2) examine our deep emotions around sports 3) own the passions of our heart. For God has promised – “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant…I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Isaiah 44:21,22 “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your idols.” Ezekiel 36:25