Long before the days of the WWW and instant information, the ritual would commence around the radio at 10:00 on Sunday morning. After the BBC world news, we listened to BBC sports round-up. This is where we learnt how our beloved Everton Football Club had performed in England overnight. We sat in silence as the scores were read out – English division 1, division 2, division 3, division 4, then the Scottish divisions. The results were followed by commentary on the main games and news of player transfers. Such was my dad’s love for Everton, it puzzled me that he prized himself away to live in Australia. What puzzled me more is that dad married a Liverpool supporter – Everton’s neighbour and arch-rival. As a boy my bedroom walls were covered in posters of Everton players. I wore Everton jerseys, t-shirts, and jackets.
The Euro football finals have just finished, the Olympics is underway. In our own country winter sports will soon wrap up and the summer competitions begin. What are we to make of the world’s obsession with sport? So much attention given to people who can kick, hit, catch or slam dunk a ball; people who can run, swim, or drive quickly. What does it really matter if the blue team beats the red team, or one individual is superior to others? Quite rightly, Christians refer to sport as an idol. I would certainly say that was the case for me growing up. It is not a modern phenomenon however, in the days of the New Testament athletes received great public recognition. Quite rightly, Christians point out the outrageous sums of money professional athletes earn and the immoral lives some of them flaunt.
Should Christians refrain from following or participating in competitive sport? Is it to dabble one’s toes in the waters of idolatry; is it to waste time in a pointless pursuit? A few brief thoughts.
* Anything can become an idol – food, money, sex, education, art, gardening, relationships, knowledge. Nothing is an idol in itself, we create idols. Christian author Faith Cook took up rabbit breeding and competing at shows and became obsessed with it. Engaging in sport can be idolatrous, so can buying Christian books.
* In one sense most interests are pointless – what is the point of listening to music, reading novels, collecting things, taking pictures, bird watching, etc? They are not pointless however, if we enjoy them. God gives us pointless things to enjoy. True to say some enjoyments are probably more noble than others, yet that is also highly subjective. One man’s poison is another man’s meat.
* Competitive sport is not condemned in scripture (purely violent sport being an exception). I say to my youngest son, play football and watch it for pleasure and recreation but Christians should not pursue anything which takes them away from the tings of God.
* As believers we must learn to live with checks and balances; life involves maintaining perspective and priorities. This applies to everything we do. We cannot live obsessively when it comes to interests and hobbies, but neither can we live in a cupboard.
I no longer worship at the altar of football; Christ is my Lord. But I certainly enjoy watching Cameron play, and I will always support Everton.