Faith and Works:
Watching winter sports is fascinating. I can relate to track and field, soccer, volleyball and other stuff that used to happen in gym class but things like curling, skiing and the luge completely elude me. Besides my brief, tragic experiences on the rink in Savannah I have very little knowledge of what snow and ice are actually like, so the winter Olympics might as well be held on the moon—life in Vancouver is just as foreign.
I didn’t even know that ice hockey was a legit sport (I thought that “The Mighty Ducks” was based on a game made up for the sake of the story, like Quidditch) until spending four years in Ohio where people come from states with actual teams and had opinions about which is best. Like any sport, I usually only express interest if it helps strike up conversation with a cute boy, but last Sunday evening I found myself watching the U.S. vs. Canada hockey game for it’s own sake. It was exciting and violent.
Watching the instant re-play of the final goal for team US, my friend remarked that Canada had removed their goalie to have an extra man on offense. As I’ve said, I know very little about sports and especially nothing about hockey, but I remember from my Island Rec Center soccer days that a goal should not be left un-tended (or no oranges at team snack-time). I understand that this is a last-ditch strategy that occasionally works, but to me it seems foolish to leave a goal completely un-tended.
It did make me think that the balance of defense and offense is an analogy for the spiritual life (I acknowledge that’s a strange way to see a game. I can’t help it.) Soccer, hockey, basketball and all those sports that require attention to both scoring and defending the goal demonstrate the need to balance our faith and our actions. You can’t win a game without scoring points against the other team just like you can’t grow closer to Christ without following him with actions like service and worship. Volunteer work, mission trips and singing hymns are actions that draw us closer to God. However, actions are not enough.
As Canada painfully learned, defense is also critical to winning. A team could score a hundred points and lose if the other team scored a hundred and one. Similarly it’s not enough to be a nice person doing nice things if we want to grow closer to Christ. It’s also necessary to nurture and defend our faith against the influence of evil and doubt. In his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him “to stir into flame the gift of God you have…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Faith is nurtured through prayer, scripture and rejecting evil. Those following Christ have a real enemy waiting to step in and score when their defenses are down.
The book of James summarizes this balance, explaining that belief in God is important, but “even the demons believe that” (James 2:19). There must be a balance of both faith in God and action, “see how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone… just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:24, 26). St. Augustine summarized this balance, saying, “pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on us”.