Last week, the World Cup kicked off to an estimated viewership of over 3 billion people, including 94 million Americans (most of whom are totally faking it). Almost half of the world’s population is completely fixated on the 32 national teams playing in Brazil.

Next week, 1.6 billion Muslims will participate in Ramadan, a month set aside in the Quran specifically for prayer, fasting and work aimed at pleasing Allah. Other than the massive numbers of people involved, these two world events seem to have little in common.

But what we are actually witnessing this month, are two of the most overt expressions of religion humans can offer. These are not new, in fact we have been doing these things from the beginning. Deep down we all know we’re broken, even if we don’t have the language to articulate it. We know that we’ve fallen short of some standard and that somehow, things are not as they should be. So this shame or at least this discontentment, has led us to cover up with something else in order to improve our status in the middle of this brokenness.

Historically, people have gone about this in two ways: One is to hide under a man-made, pseudo-spiritual camouflage and the other is to work based on a religious merit system.

We hide our true identity underneath an assumed identity that we believe to be more attractive or protective. Instead of nakedness, we cover ourselves with fig leaves; in place of shame, we manufacture reasons for pride. How else can you explain the passion - immense joy and extreme agony - of sports fans? This goes well beyond a simple love of the game, well beyond even patriotism. We’ve tapped into something religious -- a deep, spiritual desperation to be attached to something bigger than ourselves in order to be to be glorified by association. Even Nike’s and Adidas’ World Cup campaigns of “risk everything” and “all in or nothing” echo the innate, spiritual significance of this tournament.

The second way we attempt to cover ourselves is through work. Our inherent sense of guilt or indebtedness leads us to attempt to earn our way out, to pay back what we owe. This is the basic operating principle of all religion, Islam included; I obey so that I might be found acceptable (forgiven). I pray, fast, follow the rules, so that I might be attached to something holier than myself.

Its important to understand that these two attempts are not wrong so much as they are simply impossible to achieve. The inclination to attach ourselves to something beyond our finite grasp is right, as is our impulse to become clean and free.

This is the setting that the Gospel must be dropped into. This is the cultural framework that makes the basic operating principle of Christianity so completely bizarre and counter intuitive. Because of what Jesus did, you are already accepted. There is no more guilt by association -- there is only love by association. There is no longer a need for debt payments -- it has already been paid for. There is no need to find a national badge of honor, you are already accepted and loved by the King. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection accomplished what millennia of human idolatry and works could not.

This is good news for soccer hooligans, Muslims, and guys who are simply counting down the days (65) until real football begins...

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." - 2 Cor. 5:21
Bubby Bryan
Uttermost Sports