The collision of sports and scripture, of competition and communion with God, has always been something of a county two-lane pileup. The complication is how the two can favorably, literally coexist.
We all know religious people — Peter Priesthoods and Molly Mormons and Chris Christians — who normally are the calmest, nicest, sweetest, humblest, meekest folks on the planet, all ready to entreat their fellow men and women, to inherit the Earth and all, who play in or show up to watch a sporting event and transform themselves into raging, screaming, bitching, insufferable maniacs.
Knock that innocent who-me? grin off your face.
You’ve done it or seen it: Regular God-fearing churchgoers suddenly participating in ward ball or standing on the sidelines of their kid’s soccer game or sitting in the seats at their school’s basketball arena becoming Genghis Khan or Attila the Freaking Hun. You would think their entire self-worth and self-esteem were wrapped up in the final numbers on the scoreboard, in little Johnny or Suzy or Donovan Mitchell making that last shot or Tyler Huntley or Tanner Mangum throwing that last-minute touchdown pass.
Is it OK, then, for followers of Christ to boo the hell out of the refs or to trash-talk players on the opposing team? Is that kind of behavior exempt from the prescribed way outlined in the Good Book? Does the cost of a ticket provide a heavenly pass for people to comport themselves in a manner that they — were they to observe it in anyone else in any other setting — would consider boorish and un-Christian?
The nature of competition, whether as a participant or as a fan, is to beat the other guy. Do what you gotta do to win the game. That’s what modern society values: winning — and associating with winning. If your team wins, you win. If your team is a winner, you’re a winner.
Pity the poor pathetic losers, but not enough to let them win or to send good vibes their way.
So, what are folks to do? A basketball or football game isn’t a church bazaar. When the Golden State Warriors roll into Vivint Smart Home Arena, or when USC comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium, when Boise State shows up at LaVell Edwards’ place, no fans in that moment want to love their neighbor as themselves. No fans want to extend charity or subject themselves to suffering for the good of the other guys.
But, wait, what would Jesus do?
What would you do if Jesus were sitting in the seat next to you at the game?
I’ve concluded that Jesus might be the master and captain of our souls, the centerpiece of our worship and adoration and appreciation, but he would likely make a lousy football coach.
What would happen, say, if the pregame locker-room speech went like this: “But I say unto you which hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to them which [chop-block] you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully [defeat] you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him who taketh away thy [victory] forbid not to take thy [conference championship] also.’”
Man, it just doesn’t work.
I know, I know, there are scriptures that encourage the righteous to compete hard, such as this one from Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
And 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”
But there’s also Proverbs 24: 17-18: “Rejoice not when thine [opponent] falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth. Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him.”
And 2 Corinthians 11:30: “If I must needs [brag about my team], I will [brag about its losses, not its wins].”
And Proverbs 29:23: “A [f]an’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.”
Still, with all of that said, even the biblical greats competed to some level in sports, what with Joseph serving in Pharaoh’s court, and the first scripture in Genesis starting with the words, “In the big inning.”
I dunno. Just a little food for thought, next time you’re playing for the world championship down at the stake center gym or your kid’s team gets beat and you think it got robbed by the refs or you’re tempted to scream your bloody guts out at LeBron James when the Jazz are playing the Cavs or at James Harden when the Jazz are playing the Rockets or when BYU and Utah are squaring off.
Remember, the Creator of heaven and Earth isn’t a season-ticket holder of any particular team, not even yours. And to quote another famous scripture: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” — even if he is a stinking fan of your stinking rival.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.