Looking for God in the World Cup

July 14th, 2014

Christians believe God is distinctly revealed in Jesus Christ but we also believe knowledge of God can be gleaned from observing the world around us. Because God’s presence permeates all of life people of faith often discover the divine in unlikely places. Recently, I experienced God in an unexpected place: the World Cup. Some will shake their heads in disapproval at the thought of soccer being a spiritual experience. Professional sports in the eyes of many is nothing more than a mere game full of unruly fans and over paid players. However, if we are true to our belief that God’s presence is boundless then we must make an effort to recognize God’s presence in our competitive spirit and in the games we play.

Soccer is a unique game because it is able to unite the globe in a way that few sports can do because it is ingrained into cultures on all continents; it moves across lines of race, ethnicity, language, religion, and government. It is the most universal sport on the planet. Over the last month, teams representing thirty-two countries have gathered in Brazil to compete in the quadrennial event known as the World Cup, which includes a total of sixty-four matches and is the grandest stage in soccer. On Sunday, Germany and Argentina battled in the final game before a worldwide audience to determine who is the best team on the planet.

The wide-reaching appeal of soccer is powerful; the diverse cultures and groups in attendance at the World Cup create a rich experience. As a person of faith and a soccer fan, I believe this connection between people from vastly different walks of life is a spiritual experience. Whether you are sitting in the stands or watching from your television at home, God is present to those willing to fully open their eyes to the beauty of the diversity on display at the World Cup. It is moving how God works through a simple game like soccer to shatter the illusion of separateness we often live under; through the World Cup we gain a glimpse of the deep interconnectedness shared by all of humanity.

There is power in being connected to others who once were viewed as vastly different because of language, ethnicity, or nationality. A spiritual energy develops that is palpable when we let go of the false barriers we have erected so that we can experience the oneness of God’s creation. While the World Cup is not exactly a modern day Pentecost, it is an exhilarating experience of the diversity created by God. As human beings we crave this collective spiritual experience even if it comes through a mere game. There is part of us that desires to be pulled into something larger than ourselves so we can move past the isolated worlds we create. Fortunately, God’s Spirit is at work even in sports and competition to move us beyond ourselves and closer to others. Thanks be to God for soccer and the World Cup because it is a reminder that we prefer and need connection over isolation and that God is experienced when we respect one another’s differences and focus on our commonalities.

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