A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
29th August 2004
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There is a time for games in life, and the biggest set of games is the Olympics. As we draw near to the end of the games once more it is worth thinking about them from a Christian perspective.
It is a small minded and sour view of the world that will not see sports, parties and fun as an essential part of life’s experiences. There are many horrors in the world and many important issues to address. There is great need to spend money on international relief work. However there is a time for fun and pleasure just as there is a time for work and sadness. As Ecclesiastes puts it “There is a time to weep and a time to dance.”
God has created a magnificent world. Even in its fallen and death-ridden state the created world is marvellous. And no part of it better shows God’s wonder in creation than the human body and spirit, demonstrated in the heroic athleticism. As the book of Proverbs says: “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29)
Four years ago Sydney enjoyed hosting and sharing in the party experience of the games. The wonder of modern electronics and media enable us to watch Athens host the party this time. We can watch the most able young men and women from around the world share in the fun of competition.
It is a shame if we cannot enter into the pleasures of this human experience. Yet there are some aspects of the Olympics that sadden the Christian conscience.
Obviously the cheating that seems to mar each Olympics is a matter of sadness. Christians are not the only ones disappointed by cheating. The drug cheating of the past few decades is a matter of great disappointment to the whole world of sport.
It is not only sad that the competition is distorted by this means. It is sad to see young lives ruined as a result of performance enhancing drugs.
Similarly Christians are not the only ones concerned about the intrusive influence of money and media in distorting the games. The whole operation is very expensive and without monetary considerations the games could not be staged. However, the influence of professionalism in sport is not wholly beneficial.
The media’s perception of the games is also an unsatisfactory aspect of the Olympics. The concentration on personalities, conflicts, and off field scandals gives a very distorted coverage of athletic activities. The focus on athletes’ emotions after their event rather than showing the event itself is really irritating to those who would like to see the competition.
Similarly concentrating on following just the success of our own national athletes changes the joy of watching the competition and performance of the world’s best athletes into at times appalling jingoism.
But the thing that annoys the Christian conscience the most is the hype and philosophy of the meaning and significance of the games. The idea that in the games we demonstrate the unity, peace and glory of humanity is to revisit the Tower of Babel. Humanity’s salvation does not come through human endeavour be it science, music, international diplomacy or athleticism. The failure of the games to raise us to a new level of world peace and harmony is illustrated each four years. Yet each Olympics we are treated to another sickening panegyric of world unity and concord.
It is God who has divided humanity to warn us of humanity’s hubris and to teach us to depend upon him. Our youth is to be enjoyed to the full but youth and games are only one part of life. So the wise will follow the advice of Ecclesiastes
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement. Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say. ‘I have no pleasure in them’ “