Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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Lewis, Joy, and The Sporting News

January 12th, 2007 | Skip to comments

You never know what the e-mailbox will bring. Today i had this delightful exchange with an associate editor of the venerable Sporting News–my favorite source for baseball info when I was growing up. Anyway, it made my day:

To: “Bruce L. Edwards”
From: “Matt”
Subject: Sports and joy

Hi Professor Edwards,

I am writing a cover story for the Sporting News with the working headline, “God and Sports: Does He Really Care?”

As part of the story, I am thinking about drawing a parallel between what sports fans experience and what C.S. Lewis described as joy.

On your personal site, I noticed links to ESPN and the Cleveland Indians, so
I assume you’re a sports fan. What do you think about that idea that sports fans experience what Lewis called joy? True or overstating it?

Sporting News

To: “Matt”
From: “Bruce L. Edwards”
Subject: Re: Sports and joy


Thanks for your contact! Yes–I am a big sports fan, esp. baseball, and have a book in the works on baseball and spirituality, so your question is quite near and dear! Lewis is prominent within it!

Let me comment on your question, and then if you want to give me a call to clarify anything, please feel free to use the numbers below.

Here’s the thing about Lewis: If you know his story, particularly as told in Surprised by Joy, his search ends with the Author of Joy, and not something as elusive or as abstract as a temporal definition of “joy.” In other words, joy is always a byproduct of the search for what’s really real, authentic, eternal. We never get here, on this side of heaven, what alone awaits in God’s presence on the other side. Nevertheless, there are what Lewis called “fleeting glimpses” of this experience HERE and NOW–and, for me and many others, the thrill (and agony) of sports and rooting for “our side,” “our team,” is one of those experiences.

Here’s a relevant quotation from Lewis:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe, or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” (The Problem of Pain, p. 116 [HarperCollins, 1940])

Note Lewis’s careful phrasing: “plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.” And note he mentions a “football match” (soccer) as one of his examples.

So, yes, I believe Lewis’s “joy” can be located in the vicarious experience of living and dying with one’s teams (for me, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians) as well as one’s personal experience in actual participation in sports–a weekend softball league, competing in a fantasy baseball league, or attending a fantasy sports camp (I went to the Cleveland Indians fantasy camp as a 50th birthday gift from my kids and wife–it was definitely joyful!). These are the “pleasant inns” of which Lewis speaks.

Overall, what counts as joy for Lewis is simply this–the disinterested pleasure one takes in an experience that creates the longing for more. It’s the “longing” more than the “thing itself” that is crucial in his understanding of joy. True, final joy awaits eternity, but when we do get glimpses of it here, such experiences are not to be denied or gainsaid, but should point us to the ultimate Joy. Thus, according to the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”

Thanks for asking your question. Let me know any other way to be helpful. I’d love to see your completed article when it’s done. . .

Best regards,


From: “Matt”
To: “Bruce L. Edwards”

Subject: RE: Sports and joy

Thanks for the quick response, and boy am I glad I wrote you. I had forgotten about the longing, rather than the thing itself part of this. And that’s crucial.

I’m thinking of saying something like,

Think about the hour before Game 7 starts. Your team is involved. The prospect of a win reminds you that God’s final outcome is eternal and glorious. The prospect of a loss reminds you that you and the world around you are broken, but God can overcome that. As much as you want the game to start, part of you likes waiting even better. In that moment, in that hour, of course sports are a gift from God.

That camp sounds cool. My brother did the Tigers one and loved it. If I recall correctly, he hit one off the wall in right.

If you’re quoting the Westminster confession, let me ask you this: can you help me explain sovereignty vs. free will and primary causation vs.secondary causation in such a way that it won’t make sporting news flee?


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