By the time you read this, England’s World Cup dream in Brazil will be over. Finished. Done and dusted. After the obligatory period of national mourning, national moaning begins.
If there is a silver lining, it is that we can now spend more time exercising rather than watching sport on TV.
For others, we can’t see what all the fuss is about – we are simply glad that the nation is getting back to normal after World Cup fever.
How important is the World Cup? Is it a matter of life and death? Or, as former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly said, ‘some people think football is a matter of life and death…I assure you, it’s much more serious than that’.
Sport matters because it doesn’t matter
In his book The Meaning Of Sport, Simon Barnes, Chief Sportswriter for The Times, suggests two reasons why sport is so important to us.
First, he claims that sport matters because it doesn’t matter. In other words, sport is a form of escapism, it’s entertainment, it’s something to talk about, something to spice up a boring week.
Getting wrapped up in every detail of England’s progress at the World Cup might help us to forget, shall we say, more weighty matters. Sport has that enigmatic quality that draws us in…the emotional highs and lows of our team providing a distraction from the emotional highs and lows of life.
Not for all, but for some. For others it might be novels or movies or DIY or gardening or going on holiday – anything to escape.
Hanging our hopes
Barnes goes on to claim that sport also matters because it gives us something to hang our hopes on, as individuals and as a nation.
Over the past month our hope as a nation has hung on a group of 23 men, rising and falling with every dipping free kick, every goal-line clearance, every penalty appeal.
After a win, huge waves of optimism sweep across the land, reflecting individual needs to hope, to dream, per chance, something to trust in.
Equally, World Cup failure causes the national mood to hit rock bottom, together with rock bottom sales of BBQs, beer, flat screen TVs and sports merchandise.
If we’re honest, we all need something to hang our hopes on. Something to admire. Even, something to worship. We’ve all seen fans on terraces, raising their hands, eyes closed, singing in adoration. Where else might you see men and women doing that (usually on Sundays)?
Ultimate life, ultimate death
Is the World Cup ultimately a matter of life and death? Let’s remember here the words of Jesus…
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who has sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
Hearing Jesus’ words and believing God are truly a matter of life and death, with eternal life both the goal and the result.
Rather than trusting in our national football team, we can be confident placing our hope in Jesus Christ, knowing he gives an assurance of winning the ultimate prize of eternal life with Him.
So as believers, we are at liberty to enjoy sport, to enjoy following the World Cup, to enjoy novels and movies and DIY and gardening and holidays and anything that helps us escape, remembering in all this the ultimate matter of life and death: choosing eternal life and placing our hope in the Lord Jesus. What result do you want in your life?