For those who are not aware of it, DC’s baseball team, the Nationals, have been playing the Dodgers in the playoffs. By the time you read this, they will have played the fifth and decisive game and there will be joy or sorrow among baseball fans here. Since they moved here in 2005, the Nats have never made it past this round of the playoffs, which is sort of the baseball version of the Elite 8. Twice they’ve lost game 5’s at home, each time by one run. Ouch.
I love sports. I love baseball. I love the Nats. Yet I also have this love-hate relationship with sports. I wonder if I love sports too much? How much gloom after a loss is appropriate and how much reveals an idol in my heart? And why should we spend precious time and money on things like sports when there’s so much suffering in the world and so many people who haven’t heard about Christ?
Can we enjoy a baseball game for the glory of God? To widen the question, can we enjoy sports or entertainment or vacations in a world that is groaning in brokenness, waiting for Christ’s renewal? I believe the short answer is yes, we can, and we should, as God gives opportunity. As we aim all of life’s activities for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), I find the counsel we receive in 1 Timothy 6:17 to be fitting to the topic of baseball games:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
The opportunity to watch a baseball game on TV, or to head down to the park and see one in person, is an opportunity born of prosperity. Refugees aren’t worried about the who is pitching tomorrow. Some may feel guilty for experiencing such pleasures while others suffer so greatly, and we do want to cultivate tender hearts to our neighbors in need, seeking to be generous and rich in good works (1 Timothy 6:18).
We also want to be able to enjoy good gifts that God provides. They are gifts given by a generous Father. How can we enjoy them for God’s glory?
For me, watching a baseball game is a form of recreation; literally a re-creation. We aren’t robots or machines, and we do well to learn to both work and rest, to create and be re-created. Pleasures like a well-executed double-play or a creatively produced movie reveal to us the image of God in others as they excel in what they’re trained to do. These things also reveal to us the delight of living in a world run by a creative, generous God. Experiencing these things with grateful hearts has a restorative, strengthening effect upon us.
Another joy I find in rooting for the home team is the experience of being one among many fans. People love to advertise their allegiance to their favorite team on their cars, whether on license plate frames or stickers or flags. I notice these on expensive cars and old beaters, because sports crosses all sorts of boundaries. Being in a stadium brings this home further as you get all sorts of people lifting their voices and sometimes their hands, to cheer on the team. I had the joy of being in Nationals Stadium last week when they won the Wild Card game. In the 8th inning, when Juan Soto stroked a single and pushed across what turned out to be the winning run, there was pandemonium in the stands. Strangers were high-fiving one another, people were freely spraying inordinately expensive beer, people were shouting so loudly that we couldn’t hear the public address announcer. I expect I wasn’t the only fan to wake up hoarse the next day.
Finally, I’m learning to enjoy baseball as a taste of greater things to come. Knowing that baseball is a gift – but just a game – helps me temper the joy of winning and the sadness of losing. Nothing eternal is at stake here. But the joys of this life are tastes of greater joys to come and that explosion of joy I experienced in that crowd tilts me forward to wonder what the crowd experience will be when we have the greater joy of gathering around the throne of our great God. (1 Timothy 6:19).