If this picture evokes a visceral reaction within you, chances are that you were watching World Cup Soccer back on June 23rd, where in the 91st of 94 minutes of play you were at once united in spirit with millions of others around the globe.
(If that emotion was elation, you were probably an American, or at least a fan of the US team. If that emotion was frustration and disappointment, then you were probably Algerian or Slovenian… in which case I humbly apologize for this post’s inherent, yet unavoidable, bias!)
As the World Cup has just wrapped up this past weekend, with the pick of many soccer pundits (Spain) taking home the coveted prize, I’d like to take us (particularly those who rejoiced at that last-chance goal by Landon Donovan that salvaged the US team’s World Cup run to that point) back to that pivotal moment in US soccer history, which has quite possibly changed forever the way our country views the sport, despite the loss to Ghana that followed…
For those who watched the whole game, What did you feel about the US’s chances of winning as you watched?
What did you think in the 20th minute?
The 60th minute?
Perhaps, I should ask: What did you believe would be the outcome, at those points, having no knowledge of the forthcoming moment of glory?
I can speak for myself that I believed they would win. Throughout the game, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t think that somehow, the US would figure out the Algerian’s stifling defense and pull it out. I didn’t have ANY concrete knowledge to that effect (other than as I watched I could see that the US team was better than Algeria’s), yet with every close call, every offside call (deserved or otherwise), every sailing shot or clanking off the crossbar, I believed that that moment would be the one, that would elicit the goal that we were all waiting for. Not exactly being a lifelong soccer fan myself, I was the very definition of a fan-atic that morning, who without need for rationale nevertheless believed and hoped and dreamed at every step, regardless of the fact that all the way up to the 90th minute, the score remained 0-0.
Bringing this back to theology—would “belief” like this be akin to what we in the Christian tradition call “faith”?
We might use the word “faith” in this context— I had faith that the US team, being the better team, would pull it out… I had faith that through all those opportunities, eventually one of them would pan out (Spanish fans understand that one).
But in Christian thought and speech, the word “faith” has a more particular meaning, doesn’t it? Typically, it is not referring to a hope against hope, but to a concrete, static statement… in fact, we often call them “faith-statements.” They are solid, unmovable objects, that the Christian is called to hold onto when life becomes hard or difficult to understand.
An example would be the statement “Jesus is Lord.”
Or, perhaps more specifically, “Jesus is my Lord.”
Or, some might say, “Jesus died for my sins.”
Or, “I am going to heaven when I die.”
Uttering these statements would be how one demonstrated proper faith. At least, that’s a perspective that I was often exposed to growing up; your experience might be different.
Although, this isn’t the only use of the word “faith”; the word is also used to describe our posture or attitude…particularly, again, when our lives have gone awry in some fashion. The sense is that we need “faith” to get us through the “tough times.” This might be closer to the kind of faith that I had in the US soccer team, although the assumption is, once again, faith is something akin to assurance… and so blind faith would not suffice to describe this. Faith in God and His provision in the “lean times” must be something more concrete than mere fanaticism, right? Or, maybe it’s a different kind of confidence entirely…
Let me stop here, before I proceed to share some of my own observations on this, which I’ll share in a follow-up post.
For now, please comment: Do you see faith representing similarly to what I describe above in Christian circles, or have you have seen it discussed in another way? How would you define faith, in your own words? Did you shave Landon Donovan’s jersey number into the back of your head after the game?