Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Football Can Teach Us About Faith

Is your view of God that of a celestial football referee?
Traditional Thanksgiving weekend contests have taken place, and college football season is steaming toward bowl season and the College Football Playoffs. So there’s still time to consider what this uniquely American pastime can teach us about everyday life.

I used to wonder why the game’s still called “football,” when so little of it actually has to do with the foot. Yes, there’s placekicking, kickoffs and punting, but rules changes have substantially reduced the impact of foot on ball. But then a speaker pointed out that in this sport, almost everything revolves around where the football is located.

The “line of scrimmage,” for instance, is determined by where the officials place the ball. Penalties, such as “offsides,” also depend upon the football’s location and whether defensive players cross the “neutral zone” around the ball. The “goal line” comes into play when the football crosses it – or doesn’t – to decide things like touchdowns, safeties, and touchbacks.

When a quarterback drops back to pass, he’s throwing the football. And his intent is for a receiver to catch and advance it down the field. Conversely, defensive players either want to knock down the football so no one can catch it, or catch it themselves so their team will take over possession of the ball. The job of running backs is to hang onto the football and try to move it forward for first downs and touchdowns. 

Yes indeed, everything revolves around the football.

Why, when considering spiritual insights into everyday life, should we care at all about a silly game called football? Because as people created in God’s image, our lives – everything we do, say, and even think – should revolve around Him. 

When God gave Moses the 10 commandments to pass along to the Israelites, the first four specifically dealt with our relationship to Him. We’re not to follow other gods; we’re not to bow before manmade idols (“graven images”) in worship; we’re not to profane the name of the Lord in any way; and we’re to set aside one day of the week as “a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:3-11).

A skeptic friend once commented that he thought God must be “pretty egotistical” if He demands our worship. I countered, “Well, if He created the entire universe and everything in it, keeps it functioning as intended, and provides for our every need, isn’t he deserving of honor, worship and praise? We recognize athletes for stellar performances, actors and musicians for their talent, and people holding elective office for their positions of leadership. Is it wrong for the Lord to expect recognition for everything He has done and continues to do, which dwarf any human achievement we can imagine?”

But there’s another, very different aspect of football also worth considering. It’s the role of the officials who maintain order, enforce the rules, and make it their aim to catch someone doing something wrong. 

We never see a referee running up to a player, patting him on the back, and saying, “Man, that was a great run!” or “What a clutch tackle that was!” or “Nice catch!” Do something wrong, however, and they call you on it immediately. First they throw the yellow flag, then announce for all the world to hear exactly what you did.

Sadly, this is how some people perceive God – as a divine “referee,” watching intently from the heavenly realms poised to throw the flag on anyone that gets out of line. Some people refer to the NFL as the “No Fun League,” and those with this perception of God might see Him as the No Fun Lord. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God’s not surprised at all that we fail consistently to meet His holy standards. The Bible makes it clear: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away” (Romans 3:10-18). So when we sin, which literally means “to miss the mark,” He’s not surprised at all. This has been the case since the beginning of time, humankind determined to function as its own god.

Unlike football referees, who dutifully enforce the rules by imposing prescribed penalties, God instead has provided the remedy – Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross – to offer forgiveness to anyone willing to receive it. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In the Old Testament we’re told, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Football operates by the “if you do the crime, you do the time” philosophy, immediately penalizing offenders for rules violations. In the realm of faith, however, God desires to forgive and to redeem, using His laws primarily as tutors to instruct us in how to achieve successful, fulfilling lives. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Lord not only offers us grace – His unmerited, undeserved favor – but also the faith needed to believe and receive His love and unconditional acceptance. So if you view God as a celestial referee eager to “throw the flag” when we mess up, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the Scriptures. 

No comments: