Is It Right for Christians to Care About Sports?

Is it right for Christians to care about sports when there are so many problems in the sports industry?

I’m a sports fan. But like you, I’m sometimes uneasy with the baggage that can accompany professional sports. 

Why might some Christians be uncomfortable with sports? First, there is the outlandish money involved in some professional sports, such a stark contrast to what most people make for doing hard and important work. Second, with huge amounts of money often comes the corruption that your question alludes to—financial and cheating scandals, the increasing prevalence of sports gambling, and so on. Third, isn’t watching sports a bit frivolous when there are so many serious problems in the world that demand our attention? Fourth, isn’t it easy for sports—the athletes we love, the competitions we want our team to win, the time and attention it takes—to become an all-consuming idol? 

Idolatry is indeed a threat—a temptation that Christians ought to resist through the Spirit’s leading. And for some of us sometimes that might mean saying no to professional sports. The thing about idolatry, though, is that it’s rooted in the goodness of creation. We commit idolatry when we confuse something creaturely with the Creator, when we focus on the gift more than the Giver. 

Created things, though they’re always possible objects of idolatry, are from God and declared in Genesis 1 to be “very good.” The roots of sport are to be found in embodiment, play, delight, work, and community—all features of God’s good creation. 

We should guard against sports taking on an outsized role in our lives. But we should also be open to the possibility that the beauty and power of athletic movement, the sheer excellence on display at the highest level of sport, and the exertion and delight of competition enable us to glimpse something glorious about our creation as embodied beings. When I think of something like Dwight Clark’s catch in the waning seconds of the 1981 NFC championship game, Usain Bolt’s 200-meter-dash world record at the 2009 world championships, or Carli Lloyd’s goal from midfield in the 2015 World Cup final, I sense that I am beholding a magnificence that God’s good creation makes possible. 

On this topic, I highly recommend Brian Bolt’s book Sport. Faith. Life., part of the Calvin Shorts series.

About the Author

Matt Lundberg is the director of the de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development at Calvin University. He and his family are members of Boston Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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