If you’re a sports fan, you know that this is the era of player safety. It’s a time of targeting calls, pitch counts, concussion protocols, and protecting the quarterback. You can call me soft if you want, but I’m glad. I don’t think it’s necessary to put a man’s well-being at risk for the sake of my entertainment. I’m as happy as the next guy when my team wins, but players should be treated as people, not cogs in some championship-producing machine. Changes made for the sake of safety safeguard us. After all, when we care too much about winning, whether in sports or in life, we can run over people on the way to achieving our goals.
You see, idolatry is inherently dehumanizing. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are extreme examples, but they show us where our own false worship leads. In the midst of the great drought (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17), Ahab took his servant Obadiah to search the kingdom and find what little water was left (1 Kings 18:1–6). “Obadiah was a man who greatly feared the LORD” (v.3), and his love for God overflowed into concern for people. He’d hidden a hundred of God’s prophets away in caves, providing them with food and water and protecting them from Jezebel’s madness.
Ahab, by contrast, could have cared less about his thirsty people. He searched the kingdom for grass and water so he could keep his horses and mules alive. This wasn’t some modern concern for animal welfare. No, this king cared for his animals, because they were the source of his military and financial strength. His words and actions showed what his heart truly loved. Winning was important. People were not.
Treating people as a means to achieve our goals is evil. In the idol-worshiping lands of the ancient Near East, a king could seize property from any person he wanted. Prosperity was taken by political maneuvering or brute force. But in Israel, an inheritance was a sacred stewardship from God (Leviticus 25:8–17). Ahab’s neighbor, Naboth, knew this. When he rejected the king’s offer to buy his vineyard, he was expressing his faith. Sadly, he became a martyr to Ahab and Jezebel’s covetousness (1 Kings 21).
Ahab had a blatant disregard for human life, and he did more evil than any king before him (1 Kings 16:30). But it’s not uncommon for some of us to use degrading and dehumanizing language when talking about someone of another culture, gender, or political persuasion. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been convicted about the subtly dehumanizing words I’ve used to describe athletes. I now try to stop myself before I describe a running back as a “beast,” for instance. Comparing the man who carries the football to a beast of burden feels too much like the dictator’s “collateral damage” or the abortionist’s “tissue.” Maybe I’m overthinking it. Probably so. But my prayer is that God would keep my mouth from degrading speech and my heart from idols.
Written by Jared Kennedy