Joy

It Was Every Bit as Good as I Hoped (Responding to David Mathis at Desiring God)

You may or may not have heard, so I thought I’d make sure everyone knew: Clemson won the College Football Playoff on Monday night.

On Tuesday, lifelong Clemson fan David Mathis, executive editor at desiringgod.org wrote a post entitled, “The Greatest Day in a Fan’s Life,” in which he said, “Now that I’m on the inside of it, I can tell you it’s not as good as I hoped.” A number of good friends have read and shared the post.

I thought I’d take a moment and respond to Mathis here. I too am a lifelong Clemson fan. I don’t know David, but I read just about every post at Desiring God and a quick Evernote search turns up eighteen David Mathis articles saved for future reference. So I’ve been helped quite a bit by his work.

That being said … I just can’t quite agree with the weight of his post. It seems to me that he makes a right point in an unhelpful way. As a pastor who values and preaches the supremacy of Christ in all things, I heartily assent to his emphasis on the final victory of Christ as our greatest joy. I also share his concern with the tendency of sports fans to idolize their teams and sporting events.

But for me, Monday night was every bit as good as I had hoped. My wife and two daughters stayed up for the entire game (waaaay past bedtime), and we all rejoiced together when Clemson pulled out the W at the last second (ok, ok—I rejoiced a little more than everyone else…!). I didn’t find ultimate fulfillment in that moment, but I hadn’t anticipated that I would. But that moment brought GREATER joy than I had anticipated. Clemson last won the championship the year I was born (1981), so this was a long time coming. I was disappointed (but not crushed) by last year’s loss in the championship game and elated (but not ultimately so) at this year’s victory.

So I found myself feeling like Mathis’s post rained on the Clemson parade in Rockford, IL (it was a small parade). If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment… Our girls are at an age where they enthusiastically anticipate Christmas Day, in large part because of the presents they’ll receive. We take time each Christmas to read the Christmas story and invest the day with the worthiness of Christ. But the last thing I’d want to do is caution my kids, as they’re opening their presents, not to enjoy that moment too much—because Jesus is better.

Yes, Jesus IS better than presents or a measly national championship. But reminding someone in the midst of joy that there’s an emptiness behind earthly joy—while technically right—seems to miss the intent of the moment. When Jesus tells us we should become like little children to enter the kingdom of God, it seems that he is—at least in part—pointing us to the innocent, freely enthusiastic joy that a child shows when she’s happy.

So, rather than leaving me feeling hollow or empty (or reminding others that they should feel that way), Monday’s game for me serves to heighten my anticipation precisely because of the joy I experienced: “If this is this much fun, imagine how much fun rejoicing in Jesus without any sin will be!” And the weekly gathering of our church is a source of joy on a regular basis for me in a similar manner. It’s not always euphoric, but sometimes it is—like when someone repents and is baptized or when someone shares how the Word of Christ has affected their life in a fresh way or when the voices of our congregation sing together and melt the coldness of my heart.

And in the big scheme of things, Mathis’s post seems to convey a view of culture that is less than helpful. If we enjoy culture as the ultimate good, that’s … not good. But if we enjoy culture as a window to the glory of God, it’s like the appetizer to the more amazing meal to come (rather than a dessert that we’re warned not to enjoy too much).

In the words of John Piper (in the foreword to this book): “The weakness of (Christian hedonism’s ascetic tendency) is that little space is devoted to magnifying Christ in the right enjoyment of creation and culture. Little emphasis is given to Paul’s words: ‘God created [foods] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving’ (1 Tim. 4:3-4). Or his words that God ‘richly provides us with everything to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6:17).”

For me, Monday night wasn’t a moment of hollow ache. It was a moment of sheer gladness, and that—more than any emptiness—makes me excited about the ultimate victory of Christ.