A few weeks ago I was a guest on Desiring God’s Behind the Blog podcast, where we talked about sports and Christianity. I was asked whether sports are of less value than the arts because of all the formulated rules inherent in these mere games? In other words, are sports phony or contrived man-made ventures less worthy of thought and energy than the arts?
All creative endeavors, at least the good ones, have rules and limitations. Painters have a color palette and a medium in which they work, whether it is oil or watercolors, canvas or a mural on a wall. Sculptors use particular tools and a finite amount of material, such as a single block of stone or wood. Writers have word counts and chapter breaks and grammatical rules. Poets have meter and form. Musicians have notes and measures. And all of them have a genre or style to guide and shape their work—or limit it if you choose to see it that way.
All of these aspects create a means of understanding the creation and expression. And they eliminate creative anarchy: splashes of color and crashes of noise but no discernible or beautiful expression. Without rules artists would be paralyzed by the inability to know what happens next. What do they do? What is this creation supposed to be? It is rules that create opportunity for genius and artistry to exhibit itself.
The same applies to the world of sports. The boundaries on a field or court create a space, and the rules of the game eliminate anarchy. It is within this framework that great athletes are free to express beauty and power and majesty. It is within these rules and boundaries that the skill and nuance and improvisation come out. Without rules, all the ability that God poured into athletes would have nowhere to adequately be exhibited.
It is easy to view art as an expression of God’s creative beauty while simultaneously viewing sports as some fabricated, lowbrow, cheap entertainment. This dichotomy of thought is made easier by the fact that sports are popular among a wider variety of people, while appreciating the arts takes more learning and education. (To deeply appreciate sports also takes education, but that’s a different column for a different day.) All this misses the point: Sports are no less an expression of God’s creative power and beauty than art. And both are created by rules in order to give form to this beauty. God created the world with order and structure—all of it—so that every ounce of majesty and wonder could be exposed in its way—including sports.