The World’s Greatest Game
I have to confess, I was giddy when I got out of bed yesterday morning.
It was borderline embarrassing. As I made my first cup of coffee, and the house was quiet, I stood there laughing at myself and simultaneously thinking, “Why am I so excited about such a trivial thing?!”
You see, the World Cup has begun — and I am Brazilian. That might not mean much to you, but you should know that there is an unusual phenomenon in the heart and mind of a Brazilian every four years that is truly difficult to put into words. This summer, the 20th World Cup kicks off, with thirty-two qualifying nations converging in twelve stadiums across Brazil.
Allow me to give you a quick snapshot of Brazilian futebol. It is the source of unparalleled fanaticism for its 198.7 million people. Brazil is the only country to have won the World Cup five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002). They have 67 World Cup wins, 15 ties, and only 15 losses — that’s a 69% winning percentage, in case you were curious — including 210 goals scored. They have had some of the greatest players in the history of soccer, including Pele (77 goals), Garrincha (12 goals), and Ronaldo (62 goals). Futebol has become a place of solace for Brazilians in the midst of oppression, corruption, and turmoil.
Even now, the nation of Brazil is on the brink of becoming a serious failure as a host country. The infrastructure is simply not ready, with unfinished airports, roads, and public transit projects. Even some of the stadiums are not entirely finished, and the competition’s already started! Add to that nationwide rioting, strikes in every sector, and an enterprise that is entirely over budget (Brazil now boasts ten of the twenty most expensive futebol stadiums in the world).
Behind the Brazilian’s Heart
As a result, you would expect the population of Brazil to be downtrodden and defeated. In many ways, they are. In spite of all of this, however, all I have seen these last few days is sheer, unashamed enthusiasm. To my amazement (except not really at all), my fellow Brazilians are already celebrating (especially after a convincing, if not slightly controversial first victory). When I log into Facebook, my eyes are assaulted by bright yellow jerseys, green flags, and a people who are as excited about the Cup as ever. There is just something about futebol that brings Brazil together like nothing else.
As I sat with my cup of coffee, I was reminded of the fact that we were created for this. We were created for praise. It’s hard to say it any better than C.S. Lewis:
The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. . . . The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, actors, motors, colleges, countries, children, flowers…
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
The simple point is this: my fellow Brazilians and I are simply doing what all human beings cannot help but do with the things we value. The praise and excitement that we share over the World Cup is simply the enjoyment that spontaneously comes and overflows. I realize as I write this — perhaps for a primarily American audience — that many may not see the glory of Brazilian futebol.
A Greater Reason for Celebration
Like all things of this earth, the World Cup will end, and so will the temporary thrill. And yet there is a supremely valuable God of grace who is infinitely worthy of our praise, for those that have the eyes to see. If we can pour all of this excitement and enthusiasm and happiness into soccer, think about what our hearts might be capable of in response to him.
It is a beautiful thing to ponder that God has made us in such a way that praising him — the highest calling of mankind and our eternal vocation — helps complete the very joy that we all so desire. Our happiness in him — the source and image of all grace and all truth — can’t help but overflow in enthusiasm and worship.
It is my greatest hope and desire that God would see fit to open our eyes more and more to the glory of grace in his Son, that we might be transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). As much as I hope to enjoy this next month of futebol, it is nothing compared to the eternal consummation of joy promised to those who are in Christ, praising him forever.
And that is a far better reason to be giddy — even for a Brazilian.
More on Jesus and sports:
Erik Thoennes on the Christian and Sport (interview)
The Peril and Potential of Youth Athletics (interview)
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