American football and the kingdom of heaven

A Christian Science perspective.

A friend once likened heaven to “football where no one can get hurt.”

There are a lot of us who would like that heaven of seeing our teams stay clear of bounty systems for injuring opposing players. All the hurt and depression that many players and former players feel, that can go too!

Christ Jesus’ life-example suggests that heaven is something especially holy. So, I’m careful with irreverent comparisons. Yet Jesus did emphasize that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (see Matthew 3:2, for example). I take from that, and from my own experiences, that humanity’s attainment of the ideal for life is not really about going to some far-off heaven or abandoning everything that currently makes up our lives. It’s about redemption – approaching things differently or seeing things, such as football, in a better or more spiritual light.

I don’t know all the improvements that the leagues will come up with regarding the rules of the game as they wrestle with these bounty system issues and continue to look for ways to promote players’ safety. But my experience with sports and with spiritual healing tells me about one thing we can expect to see more of: God’s glory brought forth.

While an active athlete in school, I had a time when I suffered from pain in both knees. I’d sit in class aching. This was also when I was starting to explore Christian Science and what it teaches about heaven and healing. This led me to see participating in sports in terms of expressing the qualities of God, such as grace and harmony and life. In the process, I was losing the feeling that sports were about willfully pushing a physical body to succeed over others. I was to take more steps in trying to glorify God.

The end of my story was freedom from the discomfort. And over the years, the same spiritual ideas have been the key to overcoming depression, accident, and injury.

God, divine Life and Love, is the real essence or cause of our lives, bringing into human consciousness harmonious activity. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “Man’s real life or existence is in harmony with Life and its glorious phenomena” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 105). It’s in this idea that I’ve seen we can all find more of ourselves and of what we need for improving our life experiences.

Football players and fans can find a way to see the game more in terms of God’s “glorious phenomena” brought out on the field, and less in terms of a battle of animalistic will-power over one another. I know this is no small shift. Football has been a physically punishing and brutally confrontational sport. But I’m really not talking about a change in the actual game.

We’re already seeing how improvements with equipment have made daring efforts and hard hits potentially safer. We could also see the thrill for participant and spectator as more of the game’s deeper value – what God can cause in ourselves and others – comes into view. The best football ever will include a healthy feeling of competition, while essentially being a focus within oneself to bring out more of the God-derived abilities, sportsmanship, and wellness in everyone. I’m convinced the intentionally caused and even unintentional injuries, along with the emotional baggage that troubles players, can disappear, and the game become more universally satisfying.

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