If you live in the American South, you’ll know about the deep connection between religion and sports, particularly when the sport is football at a major university. Although the First Amendment now prohibits most pre-game prayers, the contests are seen as reflections of God’s will, as if he cares deeply about which team scores the most touchdowns. Alert reader Sigmund, following a story broadcast on CNN, found an article explaining why sports confer glory to God.
The piece, at Church Sports Outreach, is one of the greatest post facto theological rationalizations I’ve ever seen. It’s called “Was there competition in the garden?“; the “garden” is, of course, the Garden of Eden. The purpose of the piece is to show that although sports originated after humans became sinful, it’s okay—in fact, godly—to love and follow sports. Here’s the dilemma that must be rationalized:
If competition only came after the Fall in Genesis 3, then as followers of Christ we should move people out of competition and sports rather than into them. Jesus Christ came to overcome all of the corruption from the Fall. If competition is a part of this corruption, then, in our work as fellow laborers with Christ to build the kingdom of God, we should work to eliminate, not encourage competition. However, if there was competition in the Garden, then the Fall didn’t bring competition into existence, it only corrupted it. Our work would then be to overcome the corruption and restore competition to the original design, not to eliminate it.
Remember, this is not a parody! Now to show that God really does loves sports, one simply has to do a judicious reading of Genesis:
To answer the question, we need first to define what we are looking for in the Garden. The word competition comes from the Latin word competere, which means to seek or strive together. In our culture, we typically think of competition as striving against. In our search, we will look for the first idea – striving together.
I find at least two places in Genesis 1 & 2 where this striving together, this competition takes place. The first comes in Genesis 1:28 where God says to Adam & Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” These verses have been referred to as the Cultural or Dominion Mandate. . .
. . . Notice, this command was given to both of them. They were to unearth treasures together just as they were to multiply together. This required cooperation, a striving together toward this end. Here we see competition. As they strived together, each one brought out more of the image of God in them.
You can see where the author, Bob Schindler, is going with this. And he proposes the following scenario, which I am not making up:
I can imagine one day Adam says, “Eve, would you toss me an orange.” Now Eve had never tossed before but she picks up the orange, reflects for a moment and throws it. It is a little high and Adam has to jump up from his seat to catch it. He has never jumped but reflexively does so. “Hey that was fun. Do it again only higher,” Adam says. Eve picks up another oranges, thinks for a moment and throws it higher. Adam has to really jump but stretches out and catches it. On and on it goes with lots of laughter.
Do you see what is happening there? More of the “treasure” within them is being unearthed. Adam’s ability to jump and Eve’s ability to calculate angle, velocity, distance for a perfect throw are coming out. Can you sense the joy? The fun? Can you taste this original game? And in the process, God is glorified. His image, Adam & Eve, are showing off more and more of the “glory” given them.
Ergo, football and Jesus. But there is one obvious problem:
You may respond, “But that isn’t there in Genesis. There is no tossing, no “original corn-hole game”. It doesn’t say there is but I can’t help but think this happened because of the second place I find competition in Genesis 1 & 2.
With a little more logic-chopping, Schindler explains:
Genesis 1:26, 27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them.” God is speaking to someone here. Who is it?
He’s speaking to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, obviously—the other members of the Trinity (the “Godhead”). And, if you drag in C.S. Lewis, and mix in a bit of imagination, you get the solution:
The Godhead dancing. Ever thought about that? C.S Lewis adds, “In Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing – not even just a person – but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” 
For us dance is choreographed movement typically to music. Play is choreographed movement without music. Could we even think of this as THE ORIGINAL TEAM, the Godhead, playing? Creation was the result of the Godhead dancing, may we say even playing!
If Adam and Eve were made in this image, would play have been a part of their lives? Absolutely!!!!
And so he concludes that “Christian competition”, i.e. Alabama and Auburn football, gives glory to God.
Now maybe university theologians wouldn’t find this logic sufficiently “sophisticated,” but remember that university theologians aren’t the same thing as garden-variety believers. And this noisome bit of Biblical exegesis still illustrates the three salient aspects of modern theology, including the “sophisticated” variety:
- The assertion that the Bible doesn’t really say what it seems to say.
- The fact that theology (despite the assertions of its practitioners) doesn’t involve a search for truth, but a rationalization of things that you already believe to be true from revelation or church dogma. I’m now convinced that there is nothing that can’t be rationalized by a judicious reading of the Bible. I’m sure that sects that consider sports immoral can rationalize that as well.
- Gross fabrication of arguments from whole cloth, i.e., the faithful make stuff up.
More rationalization, which you can buy from Amazon. The description is below:
“Scripture calls Christians to do everything for the glory of God. That means every thought, every word, and every deed are to be done in a way that brings pleasure and honor to him. Believe it or not, this includes playing, watching, and talking sports! But most of us fail to recognize how sports fit into the big picture of a God-glorifying life, unable to imagine that the God who created the universe might actually care about Little League games and Monday Night Football.
So how do we play, watch, and talk sports for God’s glory? Game Day for the Glory of God seeks to answer that question from a biblical perspective. Sports fan Stephen Altrogge aims to help readers enjoy sports as a gift from God and to see sports as a means of growing in godliness.”