What The Olympics Can Teach Us
My two daughters enjoyed watching The Olympics immensely this summer, particularly the events of gymnastics and swimming. When they were completed, my six-year-old asked, 'Can we watch them again next year?' Sadly, the summer games are every four years, I explained, but that does make them pretty special. The somewhat-less-exciting winter Olympics will happen in another 18 months, but does not offer quite the same excitement of sport, in my opinion.
It is frequently argued that the Olympic Games offers us something more than just the world's best athletes competing at the highest level. This truth in itself makes it appealing, to be sure, but there is a far more important window that is opened for us. When we watch The Olympics, we are hopeful that we will see Peace on Earth.
When the American swimmer had some disparaging things to say about that Russian swimmer who had formerly been caught doping, we kind of hated it. We love justice, want there to be fairness, so we balk at either cheating (by the Russian), or hatred (by the American); what we want is their love and justice. What we want to see is people of all tribe, tongue, and nation walking into a giant stadium loving each other, celebrating their common humanity displayed in fantastic feats of athleticism. And then we want to watch their common humanity displayed in peaceful acts of courage, sportsmanship, and love. We loved that Michael Phelps won more gold medals than there are lanes in the pool, but when he sat on that rope and waved his hands toward himself, inviting applause at his awesomeness, we said, no, don't do that. Pride is ugly, and humility is cherished. Just win the race, give credit to others who have made you who you are, and move on. We want to celebrate with you because humans are capable of remarkable things. And you have done something remarkable.
When Simone Manuel made Olympic history by becoming the first African-American swimmer to win an individual swimming medal, we cheered with her, because of the horrific (recent) history the United States has with African-Americans and swimming pools. We rally behind her because oppression is sick and makes us less human; her victory is a victory for all of us, because in it we see ignorance exposed and peace exalted.
There are many other stories that come from the Olympics which show our clear desire for peace and celebration of culture and people, but we know too, that it is just a faux kind of peace. The Olympics shows us what could be, but is not. There is still a civil war in Syria that takes the lives of innocent civilians daily; hatred and violence plagues our world; distrust and fear are everywhere.
All approaches to find this peace that we see for a few weeks every four summers have proved to be unsuccessful from a worldly standpoint. Despite our wisdom and clear desire for peace, we can't do it. Sin gets in the way. There is a story that makes sense of both this desire and our inability to achieve it in any earthly way: the Christian story. Only in this story do we recognize man's sinfulness and the possibility of peace on earth, including people of all tribes and tongues. No philosophy or public policy will ever set the captives free in the way that we all want: if we could, it would have been done by now. And yet, it is a reality that exists for those who trust in Christ - peace on earth, a reverse of the curse, only found in Jesus.