Monday, December 20, 2010

Sports World and Real World

It was historic, as far as sporting events go. The first time in the history of the National Football League that a game ended on a "walk-off" punt return for a touchdown:

In the hours after watching that historic football game, I began to realize that it had given me a cultural parable to explain one of the most perplexing questions in the universe: how could a good, loving, all-powerful God be believed in when the world in which He supposedly rules over is in such chaos and brokenness?

That question is a great barrier to faith for many non-believers. And the next time I encounter that question -- especially if it's a sports fan who poses the question -- I might remind the inquisitor of this football game before getting into the testimony of the Scriptures, which of course are our only sure and reliable witness to all things pertaining to faith. I say that to make absolutely clear that any earthly parable attempting to explain heavenly realities -- including this parable -- has its holes and weaknesses. Nevertheless, here's what I got out of yesterday's improbable Eagles win:

Simply put, there is a "glory" to yesterday's game that would not have been so palpable and awe-inspiring had the Eagles just steamrolled the Giants from the opening kickoff. Had the Eagles won yesterday by a score of 45-3, surely Eagles fans would be thrilled. But that thrill couldn't possibly compare with the thrill of seeing what was a sure defeat (down 31-10 with 8 minutes to play) suddenly, stunningly, transformed into an incredible victory. An Eagles blowout would have been nice, but not nearly as momentous (by sports standards) as what transpired yesterday. This game will be talked about by football fans for decades.

As Philly Sportswriter Phil Sheridan put it, "There is no fourth-quarter ecstasy without three preceding quarters of agony." And it's in that quote that I see a football-illustrated parable of the history of the whole world.

I do not want to minimize or trivialize the indescribable pain experienced by millions in this world by comparing it to a ballgame, but I believe there is a pointer here which might help a skeptic (especially a sports-enjoying skeptic) come to grips with how a corrupted, miserably broken world is still compatible with the sovereign, benevolent, God we discover in the pages of the Bible.

In His infinite power and goodness, God surely could have prevented the fall of this world into sin, and the ensuing chaos, misery, brokenness and suffering that has ensued as a result. He could have maintained a perfect world that was eternally free from any contamination of sin. But in His inscrutable wisdom, He knew there was another way of governing the world which would bring deeper joy to His redeemed: allow the world to fall into terrible corruption, and then triumph over all the forces of evil and corruption by setting the cosmos free from its bondage to corruption so that it might enter into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

This is what Jesus Christ, the God-Man, accomplished in coming into this sinful world, suffering on the cross for the sins of all who believe, and rising from the dead as the firstfruits of a victory which is still to be consummated when He comes again to make all things new. All who place their trust in Jesus will share in awesome triumph, enjoying His glory for all eternity. And that enjoyment will only be deepened by the pain and affliction we've been called to endure in this broken and chaotic world.

In the New Heavens and New Earth, when we celebrate forever the victory of the Lamb of God, who looked hopelessly defeated as He walked up the hill of Calvary, yet triumphed over sin and death and Satan and hell to make His blessings flow throughout the renewed cosmos "far as the curse is found", there will be deeper joy for us, and greater glory to Him, for having endured millennia of pain and heartache and sorrow in this sin-soaked world. He will be more beautiful to us than He would have had the world never fallen into sin and corruption, just as yesterday's game is more beautiful to Philly fans because it had appeared so hopeless during so much of the game.

Ultimately, I think that's why the "miracle in the Meadowlands, Part 2," captures the enthusiasm of sports fans like me. It's just a little preview -- a little foretaste -- of the great, final, cosmic victory of Jesus, our great King and Savior. To Him be glory forever and ever...even through echoes as small and trivial as a football game.

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