I had a professor in college make the claim that there are three universal languages that have the potential to unite people in the world: art, music, and sport. At least part of the reason these three platforms are so powerful is their ability to point them towards the Creator of the universe.
For me personally, sports has been the medium that most often draws me to God.
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As a sports fan I love seeing perfection achieved in sports. Watching a pitcher pitch a perfect game or a golfer hit a hole in one is exhilarating. For sports fans like me, these moments can offer a glimpse of the perfection of the Creator and the eternal perfection that is promised through Christ.
A recent moment that created this experience for me was the Super Six team finals for NCAA women’s gymnastics. It was one of the most exciting and tightest competitions I have seen at this level. The University of Oklahoma came heavily favored to win their fourth national championship in five years.
During the first half of the meet Oklahoma did what they do best—dominate. It seemed certain they were going to run away with yet another title. But that began to change when, after a slow start to the competition, UCLA went to the uneven bars and started gaining momentum.
Super senior Peng Peng Lee led her team on the event by scoring a perfect 10.0. Her routine was full of difficulty and skills rarely seen in collegiate gymnastics and yet she did them with perfect technique and execution. When her score flashed the entire arena erupted. UCLA was back in it with only one event remaining—arguably the most difficult—the balance beam.
After an uncharacteristic misstep early in the line up, the pressure was on for the final routines from UCLA to hit without error. Everything came down to the last performer for UCLA, none other than Peng Peng Lee. She needed to score a 9.975 or better on the balance beam to clinch the national title for her team.
As I watched her routine I held my breath. There was no bobble, form break, or step on her landing. The routine was perfection. For the second time in the meet Lee scored a perfect 10.0. Once again, the arena exploded. The entire UCLA team charged Lee and embraced her as they celebrated their victory.
Lee had done the impossible—she achieved perfection in her sport not once but twice in a single competition. She finished her gymnastics career in the most perfect way possible. She led her team to upset the heavily favored Oklahoma in a memorable, impressive fashion.
Whether you are a UCLA fan or not, if you are a sports fan and were watching this competition and Lee’s dominant performance you had to feel delight and joy when she nailed her routine!
But as sports fans, why do we feel this way when we see athletic performances like this?
In an effort to explore the spiritual reasons for this, two Biblical explanations may offer insight as to why sports moments like these can impact us so deeply.
As image bearers of God we are drawn to and desire perfection
Genesis 1:27 says that God created us in His own image. He created us to be His likeness on earth, living in perfect relationship with Him. Although this perfect relationship with God was broken when sin entered the world, we were still created by God to be the imago dei, or His image bearers.
As image bearers of God, we have the ability to recognize God as the Creator. We have the ability to seek God and understand Him. This innate ability was given to us so that we would seek to be in relationship with Him. God is perfect and it is possible that in our desire to know Him, we inherently desire perfection. I believe that this is a part of how God has wired us.
This could be one of the major reasons sports fans are so easily transfixed by sport. We crave the performances that reflect the perfection that can only be found in the Creator of the universe. We feel a deep rooted satisfaction when we see an underdog win, or an athlete overcome an injury, or an athlete achieve the impossible.
So whether you are a sports fan, music buff, or a lover of the arts, something deeper draws us to them, something rooted in being created in the imago dei.
When we witness moments of “perfection” we see a glimpse of heaven
The funny thing about perfection, particularly in sports, is that it never lasts. Perfection is always fleeting. These fleeting moments in sports are a reminder that we are created for a future perfection. One that is promised in our eternal relationship with an ever-perfect God.
Hebrews 11:40 reminds us that God has something better for us beyond our immediate existence. Earth in its current condition is not our true home. Something better is coming. God’s perfect kingdom is coming!
A picture of what we have to look forward to is laid out for us in Revelation 21:4:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The result of sin entering the world will be undone. God will renew all the brokenness that seems so normal to us now.
John 15:19 affirms that as Christ followers this world is not our final destination, we do not belong here. This at least partially explains what made Lee’s perfect 10.0 to win it all for UCLA so exciting. Her routine was a brief, momentary reminder of the eternal promise and victory that we will experience in heaven. A shadow, certainly—but a reminder nonetheless.
There is a greater victory in store for those who have placed their faith in Christ. One that transcends a national championship or a perfect 10.0. It is a reminder that something far greater and truly perfect is coming. Something wonderful, glorious, and eternal—the ultimate satisfaction our souls long for but only glimpse in this life.