Liddell bolts of perspective: some (slightly controversial) Olympic reflections

Probably the thing I loved most about watching the Olympics was looking at human bodies.

I was completely, anthropologically fascinated by the (typical) genetic propensities of different races and nations. Like, how Polish women are generally good at hammer throwing. And Kenyans are incredible at middle-distance track running. And the Chinese dominate the globe in table tennis (and emerging economies). These diverse shapes, forms and capacities of the human body all showcase God’s creative mastery. Watching everything from lithe high-jumpers to hefty wrestlers, I just kept going, ‘Wow God. You make amazing people. Take your glory.’

Then I also thought about what John Piper says – that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

I only caught glimpses of this kind of glory and godly satisfaction. Small pockets of real Olympic radiance where it was clear that the athlete understood Paul’s rhetoric: ‘What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?’ Like Allyson Felix, who uses her speed to talk about the God who gave it to her. I love what Eric Liddell said (the guy in Chariots of Fire who wouldn’t compete on a Sunday): ‘God made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.’

Which led to my next (sobering) thought:

When the fastest man on earth brazenly proclaims his lightning-bolt brilliance, is he not a little bit terrified to throw that in the face of the Living God? Does he think about who planned his long legs and devastating stride from eternity past and who was wholly responsible for his genetic makeup and who formed him, chromosome by chromosome, in the darkness of the womb and who has watched his life and his talent unfold moment by moment? Like, alone at night with his own honest thoughts, does the man perhaps wonder if his worship is misplaced?

There were other human bodies that got me thinking.

Oscar Pistorius spent many hours sitting at my sister’s dining room table doing extra Maths, eating her brownies and occasionally taking off one of his legs, to the delight of my nephews. So, like so many of my countrymen, I watched his races with tremendous pride and interest. Oscar was fearfully and wonderfully made. God knew the plans he had for him. He wasn’t surprised by the baby born without fibulas. His sovereignty wasn’t momentarily suspended when he created a baby-Olympian with a difference. (Just as it wasn’t suspended when something went bizarrely wrong in the first trimester of my first pregnancy, resulting in our son’s congenital cataracts and microphthalmia.) Is God still glorified when Oscar runs? Is God still glorified when, despite creation’s plummet into imperfection, he causes all things to work for his purposes and for the good of those who love him? Yip.

God also made Caster Semenya. He knit her together. He knew she would carry a heavy burden of confusion and controversy and, it would seem, another consequence of creation’s curse. I don’t know why. I’m not a geneticist or a theologian. I’m just a girl grappling with God’s sovereignty in a fairly screwed up world. But I don’t doubt that Caster’s Creator is glorified when she runs. Sadly, I do doubt whether she feels the grace and compassion of the Creator’s other creatures.

Here’s what I rest in:

I don’t need to judge the motives of record-breaking gold medallists claiming invincibility. I serve a big, just, merciful God who sees every heart. I’ll leave it to him.

I don’t need to understand why and how God allows the sin of a fallen planet to bleed into human DNA. I know that, God has plans which mortals don’t understand. He rests in the womb when the new baby forms. Whispers the life dream to infinitesimal cells.’ (Ellease Southerland)

 I celebrate what I see of God’s astounding creation in the human form, and I wait eagerly for the day when creation will grow young.

Genesis 3; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 5:12; Romans 8:18-28; 1 Corinthians 4:7

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