The World Cup matches currently being held in Brazil started on June 12 and the final match between Argentina and Germany will be in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Perhaps, like me, you don’t know or care a lot about soccer. And many of you may be more interested in the upcoming games of the XXXI Olympiad, the Olympics that will also be held in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016.
Ninety years ago, back in the summer of 1924, the Olympic Games were held in Paris. Many of you probably have seen “Chariots of Fire,” the British historical drama film about the ’24 Olympics.
That movie, which won the Academy Award for the best picture of 1981, is partly about Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman.”
Liddell was born in China in 1902, the son of Scottish missionary parents. Eric became an outstanding athlete at Edinburgh University, excelling at rugby as well as track.
His best event was the 100-meter dash, and he was selected to run that event for the 1924 British Olympic team. He was greatly disappointed, though, when he heard that the qualifying heat for the 100 meters was going to be held on Sunday.
As a devout Christian, he believed that to engage in an athletic event on Sunday was to violate the Commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. He refused to compromise.
So rather than competing on Sunday, later that week, on July 11, he ran the 400-meter race—and surprisingly won the gold medal, breaking the world record.
The following year, in 1925, Liddell became a missionary to China. He was ordained as a Christian minister on his first furlough in 1932.
Then in 1943 he was forced into a Japanese internment camp in China, dying there in February 1945 of an inoperable brain tumor and malnutrition.
Liddell was certainly a man of great talent, winsome personality, and deep Christian faith. But to be honest, I have mixed feelings about his refusal to compete in an Olympic event because it was on Sunday.
On the one hand, I generally admire people who stand up for, and act on, their Christian convictions. But it depends on what those convictions are and whether standing up for them enhances or detracts from one’s Christian witness.
In Japan I often heard the term “jiko manzoku,” translated into English as “self-satisfaction.” “Jiko manzoku” is often used in criticism of people who do things that don’t particularly help anyone or anything but just makes them feel good about themselves.
Back in the 1980s, I heard a preacher tell how when traveling on Sunday night, if necessary, he would wait at a service station until after midnight to buy gas because he didn’t think it was right to make purchases on Sunday.
He now laughs at his previously held belief and accompanying actions.
I’m sure he felt very “righteous” about living by his convictions then—but no doubt it was mostly a matter of “jiko manzoku.” It didn’t particularly help anyone else.
Jesus wasn’t big on keeping the Sabbath when it came to matters that were about “jiko manzoku.” But he was big on loving others and helping to meet their needs: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, lifting up the fallen, and forgiving sinners.
Liddell also served others as a missionary. His life and work in China is far more praiseworthy than what he did, and didn’t do, in Paris in July 1924.