“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” — Olympic runner Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire
I thought of that line during a discussion of the Olympics yesterday. A friend had been wondering, “What’s the point of training your entire life to swim the length of a pool? Jump on a trampoline? Run a track? What’s the eternal value of that?”
Those are legitimate questions. Let me start my answer with a personal perspective.
I was the kid who got picked last in P.E. I lacked both the talent for athletics and the disposition for it. My nature is more intellectual than physical, more contemplative than competitive. So it would be easy for me to see athletics as pretty much pointless. But precisely because I lack those talents, I marvel at those who have them, and sometimes wonder what it would be like to have them. I’m not envious; I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I’m just fascinated by the sheer variety of God’s creation and gifts. He makes so many of us so different in so many ways — physical, intellectual, emotional. And He calls all that He has made good.
The chief reason that athletics per se are good is because God has given particular people particular gifts in that area. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Olympics, where we see a handful of men and women who display amazing physical prowess and mental discipline. When we’re looking at people who are on that level, we must know God gave them those abilities and built into their nature a disposition to use them.
It must please Him to see those talents honed and used. It must please Him all the more when the athletes use the platform they’ve been given to turn our eyes back to Him, as many of them do. I love the way 16-year-old Gabby Douglas put it after winning a gold medal: “I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation: The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me.”
To say that athletics per se are good is not, of course, to say that they’re always approached in the right spirit. You could write whole books about the bad attitudes and warped values that many people — fans and players alike — bring to sports. And you can make a strong argument that some of the more violent sports don’t honor athletic talents, but corrupt them. In this respect, though, the talents are like every other gift from God: He gives good things, and man corrupts them. The fault doesn’t lie with the gifts or with the Giver. Our job is to make good use of whatever talents we’ve been given — and to appreciate it when others do the same with theirs.
Those are my thoughts. Let’s hear yours.