I love a good montage- and there were plenty around in the last weekend of the Olympics. I always find it powerful when you see images of defeat and victory spliced together- pictures of despair and ecstasy.
The agony of defeat was evident in a number of interviews during the Olympics. After being eliminated from the judo competition Euan Barton said tearfully, “I’ve been working for this for over a quarter of a century.” The dreams and hard work of years shattered in a single moment. And was there a more moving moment in the whole Games than John Inverdale’s interview with Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase shortly after they finished second in the men’s pair? “We wanted to win so badly,” Hunter said.
However, in a fascinating film (which is well worth watching) the journalist Matthew Syed explored the feelings of emptiness that so often accompany winning gold. There are very interesting comments from gold medal winners Matthew Pinsent, Denise Lewis, Chris Boardman, Jonathan Edwards and Michael Johnson. Chris Boardman won cycling gold in Barcelona in 1992 and his remarks are striking. “I felt cheated,” he says before later observing that his experience helped him to realize that satisfaction and happiness cannot be found in a gold medal.
Triumph and disaster. Kipling was right to describe them as two impostors. It is folly to make the avoidance of one and the pursuit of the other the main goal in life. Whether through the agony of broken dreams or the emptiness of realized dreams there is a price to pay for what is essentially idolatry.
Which leads me back to Chariots of Fire. There are various reasons I love that film (even if it will be impossible to listen to the music again without thinking of Rowan Atkinson). In particular the contrast between the two leading characters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell is brilliantly portrayed. Abrahams is desperate for athletic success- “I have ten seconds to justify my existence,” he tells a friend before his 100 metre final. Albeit briefly the film portrays in him something of the emptiness that comes with triumph. By contrast Liddell is seen as one completely secure within his relationship with God- able to enjoy but not be determined by success.
Christians are those loved by God, forgiven through Jesus Christ, inhabited by the Spirit and destined for glory. And those things remain true whether we face triumph or disaster. It is a glorious security from which to live. We are made for God and life in all its fullness is found in Jesus Christ alone.
Most people reading this won’t have set their hearts on Olympic gold. But all kinds of other dreams can grip us- whether in the realms of career, appearance, relationships or leisure. And in the end all of them will lead to agony or emptiness. Which is why Christians must live for Jesus Christ, for a crown that will last and for a joy that will never fade away.