Have you been watching the Olympics? Our family always enjoys the pageantry, the competition, the backstories, and the nightly reminders of the wide world beyond our own shores. Yes, there are portions we tune out, and elements we find disappointing … such that we are not unthinking apologists for all things Olympic. But there is much to learn, and much of God’s common grace on display, when we give a fortnight to the summer and winter games every other year. What astonishing abilities God has implanted into the human race! And what straining effort these men and women put forth in order to hone those abilities!
I still marvel, in wintertime, at how anyone can leap, twirl like a top a foot or two off the ground, and land safe and sound again on a single blade of metal, strapped to the sole of his or her foot … and do so over and over again, for several minutes, all on a gigantic sheet of ice! And it boggles my mind, in the summer, to see gymnasts whipping themselves in circles, like the arms of a windmill, hands attached to a horizontal bar … then not attached (while they contort, mid-air, in all manner of directions) … and then somehow attached again, so that they can slingshot just a little more before landing, like a cat, squarely on their feet!
But do you know what is the most amazing Olympic feat I have seen yet this summer? Not the world records in the pool (which I thoroughly enjoy). Not the marvel of two men diving, summersaulting, twisting, and entering, straight as toothpicks into the water, all in near perfect unison. No. The most amazing thing I have seen was two of said divers, David Boudia and Steele Johnson, calmly explaining on national TV that, while the pressure they felt leading up to these events was significant, and while winning a silver medal was fantastic, yet they were not overruled by either the stress or the success because, as Boudia put it, “our identity is in Christ.” Johnson used the same words, too, when he said that “my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is.”
Yeah, I know. Much easier to say such things when you’ve just won the silver medal, rather than when you’ve finished in the bottom half of the standings. And easier still to say such things as a privileged Olympian, rather than a cancer patient, or a father in the unemployment line, and so on. But I got the feeling that the two men were sincere … and that they probably would have spoken in the same way even if they’d belly-flopped on the world’s biggest stage. In other words, they didn’t come out, as we’ve grown accustomed to athletes doing, and give a hackneyed theology of success founded on a superficial reading of Philippians 4:13 – ‘We won this silver medal because we "can do all things through Him who strengthens" us.’ That would be true, of course. For all of our successes are from God. But it just sounds, sometimes, like the athletes who say such things believe that God is primarily concerned with our success. And you wonder what they would have to say if they had not achieved the ‘all things’ that they were striving for. But Boudia and Johnson hit the bullseye when they spoke, not about their success, but about their identity … and particularly when they noted that their identity was unrelated to their success, or even their efforts toward it!
That is real Christianity: Not the idea that God will always cause us to succeed (as either we or the world define success); but the fact that, whether we succeed or fail, what defines us is that we belong to Christ; that we are sons and daughters of the King, irrespective of how (un)important, or (un)successful we may be.
And I say it was a mighty feat, indeed, that these two highly successful divers seemed to get that! Because we are all prone to what Boudia called “an identity crisis.” We are all prone to think that our identity is defined, as he put it, by what we do. And that is dangerous. Because most of us won’t do what we do on an Olympic level! Most of us are just plain average at what we do – spiritually, vocationally, and otherwise. And someday, if we live long enough, we won’t be able to do a lot of things anymore at all! And what then? Well, if Boudia and Johnson are sincere about their true identity, then even when their diving days are done, they’ll still be the same David and Steele that they were on Monday night. Because, by their own admission, even on the night at which they won Olympic silver, they were not mainly world class divers, but rather Christians, identities rooted in Christ! And, oh, how good if we ourselves can speak (and truly identify!) in the same way!