Great Sport, Horrible God

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Messed Up Inside

Writers often write about the things that they most need to consider, and this article is no exception. The question I’ve been wrestling with is this: When does something switch categories from being a passion, to being a god? Specifically, I’m wondering if my over-the-top drive to deer hunt ever crosses that line.

A couple years ago, during the peak of the rut, I contracted mad cow deer disease. I thought about big bucks all day long. I kept fantasizing about them after work, during dinner with my family and while wrestling with my rug rats. When I went to bed, I’d toss and turn for hours imagining what the next day’s hunt might bring. For all of November, I was your typical rut-crazed, out-of-balance deer hunter. I logged dozens of hours in the woods that month.

Then December rolled around and I discovered that something was broken. It was a Monday afternoon and I’d filled all my buck and doe tags. I was done hunting until turkey season in April. I sat at work and thought about what I wanted to do that week. Nothing sounded good. The more I considered my options, the more I realized that I wasn’t motivated to do anything. I didn’t feel like playing basketball, training my dog, or pheasant hunting. I didn’t want to hang out with friends or write hunting articles, two of my favorite things to do. As a highly motivated person, this realization really confused and bothered me.

Then, I saw my mistake. I’d made hunting so important, so supreme and central to my happiness, that when the season ended, my zeal for life ended with it.

This was sadly ironic. All of a sudden, the energizing, life-giving sport of deer hunting had evolved into something that sucked the joy out of all my other interests and priorities. That was when the question of whether deer hunting had become my god slapped me in the face like a blast of winter air.

That was also when I wondered if I was the only one who experiences the over-powering allure of hunting. When I pulled back and looked at our greater hunting community – our fascination with larger-than-life hunting celebrities, our constant push to develop new gadgets and gear, and our compulsive competition to shoot the largest racks – I suspected that I wasn’t alone; it appeared to me that thousands of other sportsmen likely make hunting too important.

No Other Gods

When is the line crossed? When does hunting move from an exciting pursuit, to being a god? Let’s jump back into ancient history for a moment to answer that question. A long time ago, approximately 3,400 years, God summoned Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments. The very first commandment God gave him was, “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)”

“No other gods” – that’s an interesting phrase. It’s inherent in the entire Bible that there truly aren’t any other gods, in a deity-sense. The same God who commanded people to not have “other gods” says, “I am God and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:22b)”

So when God commanded Moses to “have no other gods,” clearly he wasn’t taking about other literal gods. He must have been referring to things. Created things. Like that shiny, ridiculous, golden calf that the rest of the Hebrew tribe made while Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God. You remember the story – the Israelites grew tired of waiting for Moses to return, so they melted down their gold and made a calf. They wanted something to distract them, excite them, and keep them busy.

What turned that golden calf, a silly created thing, into a god? According to that passage in Exodus, it became a god when the people began treasuring it too much. They put all their money into making it. They spent all their time working on it. They said to each other, “Let’s make this calf the most important thing in our lives.” And with that – presto! – a bovine became a god. (As someone who lives in the Midwest and knows how smelly and dumb cows are, this particular choice for a god baffles me.)

They spent too much money. They gave too much time. They paid too much attention. This is what turned that thing into a god.

Ouch! Answering my question about whether hunting can be a god is beginning to sting a bit. I’d hate to have someone look at my past bank statements and see how much money I’ve spent on hunting over the past twenty years. I’d be just as embarrassed to have someone tally up the number of hours I’ve spent watching hunting videos, putting up tree stands, and chasing game with my bow and arrows. I’d feel sheepish about having you look into my heart and see how important hunting is to me and how much mental and emotional energy I give to it (especially in November!).

I don’t have an altar filled with wooden carvings or golden statues. I don’t have a golden calf in my home. You certainly won’t catch me sacrificing chickens to some strange deity. But, according to the Bible’s definition of what qualifies as a god – something we treasure and pursue more than we treasure and pursue God – it appears that my passion to hunt can quickly qualify.

Let’s admit together, this isn’t a light-hearted topic. Truthfully, I’m a little surprised you’ve read this far. If it’s any consolation, I’m not having any more fun writing on this subject than you are reading about it. But, this is the most important stuff in life. What we choose to make our god/God determines our relationship to all the other people and priorities in our lives. If we view our lives as a solar system, we all have one sun, around which all other things in our lives orbit.

When God commanded us to “have no other gods,” he was telling us to keep him that central thing. Because he’s worth it. Infinitely so. And, because he knows that this is what is healthiest for us. As I experienced that Monday afternoon in December, when something like hunting replaces him as the most important thing, the entire system of our life ends up toxic.

Great Sport, But A Horrible God

Hunting is a fantastic pastime. It connects with one of the deepest, oldest parts of men’s souls. It puts us outside. It challenges us. It gives us adventure. It consistently surprises us – we never know what we’ll see or come home with. Hunting is an exciting, fulfilling sport.

But, it makes a horrible god. As fun and rewarding as hunting is, there’s no way that it can produce the meaning, purpose, and peace that only God can provide. Hunting simply can’t satisfy our deepest needs like God can.

I’m not done thinking about this subject. I certainly haven’t found all the answers. But, I have drawn one conclusion: Sportsmen will suck the marrow out of this sport, enjoying it as much as it can possibly be enjoyed, if we keep it in its appropriate place – orbiting around God, not giving it his status.

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