On Thursday, November 3, 2016, at 12:47 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, a man stood on a small piece of dirt in Cleveland with a slender piece of wood in his hand, while two others crouched next to him. Another man threw a fist-sized ball toward him with his left hand, which this man hit with the wood. A third man retrieved the ball and threw it to another man. This set off a celebration for millions of people all around the world. Crowds that had gathered to watch howled in ecstatic bliss. Grown men wept unbridled tears of joy.
Huh? If you explained this to someone who had never heard of baseball, he would be so confused. “This throwing and hitting of a round object led to worldwide celebrations?” But this is precisely what happened when the final out was recorded in the 2016 World Series, crowning the Chicago Cubs as World Champions for the first time in more than 100 years.
I was among the revelers, hugging my 18-year-old daughter like we had just recovered her from a hostage standoff. Two days later, I went downtown for the parade. I was euphoric.
A bunch of people I had never met threw and hit a ball on a field, and it brought me and millions of others incredible delight.
But why? What is it that draws a sports fan in? To create the kind of passion that gives us the long version of the word fan: fanatic? I submit to you that it’s all about one thing: glory. Let’s talk about glory for a minute, and then we’ll come back to sports.
The famous line from the Westminster Shorter Catechism does a pretty good job of capturing life’s purpose: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But what does it mean to glorify God? And what is glory? Glory is a hard word to define. You can’t point to it and say that’s “glory.” Perhaps it’s helpful to start with those who seek it: everyone.
Let’s talk about glory for a minute, and then we’ll come back to sports.
We are all, by nature, glory-seekers. We want attention. We want credit for good things we do and we don’t want to miss out on any good things coming our way. But the Bible says we are supposed to give God the glory, the credit, the attention, and not seek it for ourselves.
In Isaiah 48:11, God makes clear that his “glory [he] will not give to another.” In Acts, Herod dies because he doesn’t give God glory (Acts 12:23). “Give God glory” is almost a catch phrase in the New Testament.
So why is that? What’s God’s deal? Why does he need all of the glory, his and mine? Is he insecure? Is he a narcissist? No.
Here’s the difference between God and us.
Why God Deserves Glory
When we seek glory, it inflates our ego, and causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. It tends to make us look down on others and generally turns us into a worse version of ourselves.
As John Piper (following Jonathan Edwards) has pointed out, God seeks glory because he is the greatest being in the universe, and when we take what we could keep for ourselves and give it to him, we get to enjoy him in his goodness, even as he enjoys himself.
When we take what we could keep for ourselves and give it to God, we get to enjoy him in his goodness, even as he enjoys himself.
We find that our desires pale in comparison to his glory. And with that, let’s go back to sports.
Glory on the Field
We value sports because of the glory we experience when our team wins. Why did I experience such joy when the Cubs won the World Series? It has to do with glory. You share in the glory of that victory as a fan of the team. You haven’t done anything to assist in that victory. You have simply “opted in” emotionally and said, “That’s my team.” You have declared your allegiance.
Maybe you buy a hat or a jersey. You might follow the team’s off-season moves, learn the names of the coaches and players, and even read stories about their personal lives. You feel like you’re part of the team, to the point that you talk about it in the first person: “We need bullpen help” or “We have to get our offense going.”
When the players win, some of them tangibly benefit: they can receive a bigger contract or endorsements. You as a fan don’t enjoy any tangible benefits except you join in on the glory. You give them your glory, and then you get to enjoy the victory and enjoy their glory.
Opting In with Jesus
It’s the same way with Jesus. In essence, you “opt in” when you “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9). You declare your allegiance by placing your faith in him. You give him what you could keep for yourself, but then you get to enjoy him. You give God glory, and he always wins, so then you enjoy his glory. So in the same way that I as a Cubs fan got to revel in the victory of others when they won the World Series, we as followers of Jesus get to revel in his victory forever. He never loses.
We as followers of Jesus get to revel in his victory forever. He never loses.
At their best, sports are a stimulating hobby. And with the right perspective, they can be a symbol of something bigger. For those of us who follow Jesus, they give us a foretaste of what will be the greatest celebration in history. It will make the 2016 celebration look like a 5-year-old’s neighborhood birthday party. And they’re a reminder that finding joy in reveling in God’s glory is the greatest gift of all.