SPIRITUAL METAPHORS FROM A SPORTS FAN
By Dr. Bruce Atkinson
(with a thank you to Bill Crowder)
Special to virtueonline
January 20, 2013
With the Super Bowl approaching, I thought I would write a piece for the sports fans out there. Although many people make an idol out of their team or of the sport itself (not good), there are still many believers like me who enjoy the games and are actually taught important principles (or they are confirmed) by some aspects of the contest. We know that the apostle Paul used athletic examples in his own teaching.
The Contrast Effect
When the games are close and I have a favorite team to which I strongly identify (like the hometown team), I watch with some tension and anxiety. The tension is part of what makes these games enjoyable. When the game goes from being in doubt to my team having won, I have both feelings of relief (we did not lose.) and also triumph (we won.). These winning moments are so exhilarating and uplifting that it is worth enduring the disappointment of those other games where my team loses. Up to a point. When I lived in the Chicago area, I eventually gave up watching Cubs baseball. I'm a sports fan, not a masochist.
But in general, the losses make the triumphs more appreciated when they do come. I call it "the contrast effect": we appreciate heaven all the more because we have tasted a bit of hell. This latter principle can be found embedded in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12, from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount). Some of the blessings pronounced by Jesus can be summarized by saying: blessed are the faithful who are victims of injustice and who experience troubles that are not their fault here on earth, for these troubles are temporary and these people shall enjoy a trouble-free eternity in heaven. They will appreciate heaven more than those who had it easy on earth - and this added blessing is forever. So we can thank God for our troubles, even those days when our team (or church, or family) loses.
The Ultimate Outcome Is Already Settled
Remember the tension, excitement, and even anxiety of watching that important game? Well, when I watch replayed events, where the outcome is already known, I have no such tension or anxiety. Nothing to worry about. I can watch the action with calmness and an eye for detail. It is not as much fun, being less of an adventure, but it is relaxing.
Perhaps we are supposed to live this life with some combination of these two attitudes. True, we never know exactly what is going to happen next, what challenge will come our way, or what difficulty or triumph is just around the bend. Life always has this aspect of adventure to it. I really enjoyed this reality when I was in my 20's. But in my 60's, I now prefer life to be less adventurous and more predictable.
For Christians, the part of life that is in fact always predictable is the ultimate outcome. We can be calm and relatively unruffled through our biggest challenges because we have seen the end of the story - and it is very, very good. We know that all the troubles and all the losses will come to an end. We can begin rejoicing even now and we have absolutely no reason for anxiety (Phil 4:4-13). Knowing that we are never alone, that the One who has already won for us the victory is with us in everything, we can begin experiencing the peace that Paul describes in Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Jesus told His disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Do you hear His victory shout? He has already won the game and we are now essentially in replay mode. We get to play a part in the victory, but the outcome is not in doubt and it is not up to us. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) His peace is knowing that the wonderful outcome of victory is for certain and forever. His peace is living in His Presence as we complete our own short but purposeful lives here on earth. His peace is waiting expectantly for the ultimate and final victory, to be celebrated with Christ and our brothers and sisters forever.
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