Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Olympic Vanity

by David Morris

Personally, I think the Olympics are an amazing spectacle. The display of cultures from across the world, the pageantry of opening ceremonies, the combination of countless sports, the thrill of victories, the agonies of defeats—it all adds up to an amazing few weeks. I marvel at events I couldn’t even imagine attempting, like luge or aerials or curling. Okay, I don’t marvel so much at curling, but still, there are countless other opportunities to be amazed by athletes and all they can accomplish.

As I’ve watched this year, however, I’ve been struck with the vanity of Olympic athletes. First, vanity in the sense of arrogance and self-importance. I watched interview after interview with breathless, triumphant Olympians who proudly proclaimed their own worth. Without shame, they declared that they deserved this gold because of their hard work, or were rightly being recognized for their dedication, or were glad to see all their efforts pay off. Losers, on the other hand, looked for excuses, insulted winners, whined about judges, and basically turned everywhere except themselves to explain their losing. Humility never made it to the medal platform, it seemed, and self-accomplishment got the exclusive spotlight over and over. 

Secondly, however, vanity can mean futile or empty. I was struck with the emptiness of the games during interviews too, as athletes expressed their wins in terms of “experience of a lifetime.” Human interest stories saddened instead of inspired me, as coaches told of abandoning families in sacrifice for their sport, and young prodigies of surrendering their childhoods. Take just one sport, like figure skating, estimate the amount of hours one athlete spent in practice, multiply that by the total amount of athletes, and it all adds up to the potential for tragically wasted lives. Not that sports by themselves are a wasted life, but when used only to glorify man they are simply another idol and sinful glory-stealers from God. 

In great contrast to self-exaltation and a wasted life, Paul wrote, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The Gospel is all about grace, specifically so that no one may boast in his works (Eph. 2:9) in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:29). God is opposed to proud exalters of themselves, and those who know the Gospel should prize boasting in Christ instead of self. The Gospel is simultaneously the only way to avoid a wasted life. Instead of giving him the world, the cross of Christ meant the death of the world to Paul. When the crowning achievement of life is an odd-shaped gold medal, that is a life wasted. When the fruit of one’s life is self-sacrifice, complete abandonment to the cause of Christ and faithful discipleship, that is a life that brings glory to Christ and should bring admiring imitation from us.

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