Next Sunday well over one billion people will watch the World Cup final match in Moscow, Russia. This is quite astounding. There are roughly seven billion people in the world—the world—and one in every seven of us will set apart time in our days (or nights!) to gather around a screen and watch men kick a ball around for 90 (or 120) minutes.
I for one have thoroughly enjoyed this World Cup, as I know many others have. It has been quite dramatic. The World Cup is my favorite sporting competition, not only because I love soccer, but because the world is involved. It is wonderful to see people from all different ethnicities rooting for their teams, to witness fans in their home capital explode with joy at goals, to root for counties I rarely think about otherwise, and to be part of something big.
Can We Really Say Soccer is Significant?
But is that all there is in this excitement others and I have about this competition? I wanted to chase this excitement to its root. What is so great about this? What makes it feel so substantial to me and literally millions upon millions of others?
On the one hand, we have to be very clear: it is soccer—and I mean that in a demoting sense. Let’s not fool ourselves with the typical illusion we encounter in sports. We sport fans foolishly often think that the games we watch are so important, substantial, and even unique. When honestly, they aren’t. They’re entertainment, and entertainment with basically little value besides, well, entertaining. In daily life, in the real world, people are broken, sad, hurting, sinful, and immortal souls are at stake every day. In comparison to almost anything in life, watching men run around and strive with all their powers to kick a ball into a net is truly insignificant. It is quite frivolous in the grand, or even small, scheme of things.
Yet that being true, one out of seven people are going to watch this event on Sunday. And many have been watching and cheering for three weeks. And while it is true that in our fallen state, we often idolize, and many have been so enamored by this competition simply because soccer or this tournament has become a lower case ‘g’ god to them, we shouldn’t be so quick to throw this out as only idolatry. Yes, it is frivolous in comparison to most things. And yes, many are idolizing their teams, the sport, the competition. But still, is there more to this excitement?
What Is It Then?
I think so; I really do. And I don’t think I’m just trying to spiritualize anything I can. I deeply love the Bible, Christ, his word, and radical Christian living; and I think compared to anything, Christ’s surpassing glory is so much weightier, substantial, and better than all else that it all is like loss and nothing (Philippians 3:7-8). Moreover, I also do not like it when we embrace the world so much in the name of God’s goodness that we lose the uniqueness of God's glory. That to me is unapostolic and unbiblical.
And yet, with all that said, there is something here with the World Cup. One billion people. Such cheering. A mere sport. So, what is it? There may be many various answers to the question, but as I’ve thought about it, I think there is one thing that really makes this sporting event unique.
The Grandness of Global Gladness
I believe that the excitement and grandness of the World Cup comes from the internationality of it. The grandness and gladness comes from how global it is, and especially in how God made us to rejoice together in something so globally great.
What I mean is this: even though it is men kicking a ball around, it is a rare event where people from all over the world unite in excitement over the same thing. Think about that. You may say that this isn’t that unique, but I think it is. Even though we might be cheering for different teams, it is still people from every continent gathering to rejoice over something we all love (soccer) and that we’re doing together. And while the reason (soccer) we’re gathering may be frivolous in comparison to real life, that grand, global gathering of gladness is substantial. And it is substantial because God made us to do this.
The gospel shows us that God made each person in his image to rejoice in something particular, and to do it together. There is a reason that multiple ethnicities exist inside the human race. It is literally for Christ’s glory and our joy. We were made to fixate on God and rejoice in God, and to do it together internationally, and I think we taste this single-focused global gladness in the World Cup.
The Global Gladness to Come in Christ
This is seen in the picture of Revelation 5:9-10. Here God’s people around God’s throne are happily worshiping Christ, and it is a glad occasion not merely because we’re individually with Christ, but it also because of the kaleidoscope of peoples praising him, together. This we were made for. We were designed by our Designer to not only be united individually with our Savior Christ, but to be so with people so gloriously diverse than us from all over the world. The church will praise him like this forever. And for this Christ was exalted: so that every knee—from all these diverse, different, glorious, and broken people groups and nations—would bow to him (Philippians 2:9-11).
Again, I think this is one of the reasons the World Cup is so exciting to us as human beings. In an insignificant-in-one-sense and yet significant-in-another-sense way, the World Cup scratches at this God given itch we all have to globally and gladly be excited together at something, or really, Someone. Here and now, in this broken world, we get a small taste of this united Joy in the World Cup. There and then (and hopefully more and more now in Christ’s church), we will have it more truly together focused on Christ.
Join Me in a Taste of Global Glory
I admit there might be other correct Christians answers to the excitement of the World Cup. The fact that maybe we’re touching at something bigger than ourselves can point us to God’s grandness and glory; the creativity in sports can come from our creativity we love as we’re made in the Creators image; the desire to cheer comes from our hearts that were made to worship; the rooting for our team could point us to us being God’s people in Christ; the drama we love in the games could direct us to the grand Drama of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in history; and I’m sure more.
But what makes the World Cup in my estimation particularly sweet, especially when compared to other sport competitions, is the global gladness involved in it. Watching this World Cup, therefore, helps me understand what’s to come—the global excitement we’ll have forever in Christ and his gospel. And it helps me see who I truly am—made by God to not only rejoice in him, but to rejoice in him internationally, with people from every tribe, language, people group, and nation.
So join me in a excitedly watching soccer and cheering a few more times this last week of the World Cup. And unite with me in experiencing a tiny taste of the future grand, global gladness that we his people will have together in our God and his gospel. Then, unstained by sin and sorrow, we will forever rejoice and cheer because of true and substantial victory.