The Super Bowl: One Big Illustration

SB50I’ve been a football fan ever since I can remember. And I’ll likely be one until I die. So like most Americans, I consider the Super Bowl to be appointment viewing. But a couple of days after Super Bowl 50, I’m struck by how much the sport’s biggest showcase event isn’t just a game. It’s also a giant illustration of some of the more fundamental truths you and I need embrace as we go about our lives.

Think I’m “the-pastor-who’s-really-desperate-for-a-decent-illustration-so-he-can-have-a-topic-for-his-blog-post”?

Maybe. But think about the following:

  • On the one hand, football is fun. That’s the reason I played it as a kid, and one of the main reasons I like to watch it now. It gives you the good kind of tension, putting you on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. And it offers regular reasons to celebrate.
  • On the other hand, why can a game like football make us so upset? At least when my favorite teams are involved, I find it disconcerting how much a game can still affect my mood, and therefore how I relate to others, etc. (And I’m much, much better than I used to be!)
  • On the one hand, football is often called the ultimate team game, and fairly so. Every play is an opportunity for several people to shape what are often spectacular God-given gifts (speed, strength, size, vision, anticipation, etc.) into a brilliant harmony for the purpose of achieving a mutual goal.
  • On the other hand, football often serves as a magnified stage for individual players to draw attention, not to their team, but to themselves. And they do so in ways that we would reflexively find silly in most other situations in life.
  • On the one hand, football is, in a real sense, glorious. If you don’t believe me, just remember that statement next time you witness a clutch, go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds of a game alongside 70,000 or so fans. You won’t need to tell anyone what to do. You’ll be too busy doing it yourself anyway.
  • On the one hand, football fosters relationships and community through shared experiences. Who doesn’t like watching a game, or talking about your team’s prospects throughout the week, with friends and fellow fans? And it’s hard to beat the collective, celebratory mood that comes to a community whose team does well.
  • On the other hand, there aren’t many things that can make us act so tribally toward those who don’t share our preferences. For proof, check out the comments section of any article on your team. Or your team colors to the stadium of your archrival. Yikes.
  • On the one hand, winning a Super Bowl is an enormous achievement. Therefore, people can expend a great deal of effort, and sacrifice greatly, to play in, win, or even watch a championship.
  • On the other hand, those who do win (or witness their team win), never seem to be completely fulfilled by that victory. Not in the end.
  • On the one hand, even the commercial breaks of the Super Bowl are marvels of human creativity. There’s a reason why it’s at least one television event during which you don’t want to ignore the ads. You can find artistic skill in those spots that can rival what you see anywhere else, whether movie theaters or museums.
  • On the other hand, have you ever really thought about many of the perspectives on life that these spots offer? They can range from the ridiculous to the tragic. And none of us is completely immune to their message.
  • On the one hand, the Super Bowl is one of the great culinary festivals in our country. We love the idea of a spread full of food and drink that keeps us coming back throughout the game.
  • On the other, it’s also one of the events most likely to make you think, “Why in the world did I do that?” Where you really better off with that second plate of braised pork chipotle nachos and another piece of bourbon infused chocolate bread pudding?

We could go on, but you probably get the point. Instead, let me spell out a couple of takeaways—the fundamental truths I mentioned earlier:

1. Even our best, most longed-for, and most triumphant moments and achievements are tainted by the pervasiveness of sin. That sin causes us to use good gifts for the wrong ends, to see what is crooked as straight, and to place outsized expectations on objects that cannot possibly bear their weight. Left to our own devices, this is what we do as those who simultaneously bear the image of a glorious God and the deep, ugly scar of sin. We are not people who—given enough time and ingenuity and resources—will one day see ourselves clear of all our problems. We will always make more. In fact, we are the problem. And that means we need help from the outside, so to speak. We need a Savior.

2. What I’m actually longing for can never be satisfied by anything in this world. I can rightly appreciate the many good things it has to offer (including football and the Super Bowl), and be thankful for them. But none of them is the final answer. Which leads me to a helpful quote: “These things…are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited” (C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”). No, what I really want—whether I realize it or not—is much better.

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