The 2012 Summer Olympics have been very interesting. I’m not just talking about the drama and intensity that always surrounds the Olympics. I’m not talking about the much ballyhooed coverage and commentary on NBC. I’m thinking about two athletes in particular and the results of their individual Olympic efforts and their very public faith. As you probably know, Gabby Douglas is the young gymnast who surprised everyone by earning the gold medal in the individual all around and also helped to propel Team USA to a gold medal. Lolo Jones had attracted a lot of press before the games with endorsements and public appearances but her Olympic efforts would end with her just missing the medal stand. She ended up placing 4th in the 100 meter hurdles.
Both Jones and Douglas profess to be Christians but both of them did not come home from London with their suitcases a little heavier. There are some people who get their feathers ruffled when an athlete thanks God for their success. In some cases the scorn is justified as many people who thank God for their athletic gifts do not even attempt to live their lives in accordance with the standard God sets forth in Scripture. That said, I think it is perfectly right for a Christian athlete to thank God for their accomplishments. Gabby Douglas did just that.
Lolo Jones, on the other hand, did not come away with a medal. Her 2012 games ended with frustration, tears, and even criticism by some. This despite the fact that on that particular day she was the 4th best female hurdler in the entire world. Certainly not something to sneeze at. Still, it was a defeat for her. The question is, will we see her faith shine through in defeat? Surely she would have thanked God had she won. Will she do it in light of the loss? Whether she makes any kind of public statement about it will not change the fact that even though the results for Douglas and Jones were different, God is equally deserving of praise in both situations.
With Douglas we see God glorified and his grace on incredible display as a young athlete recognizes that it was God who gave her the gifts that got her to the Olympics. Her faith did not guarantee her success but her success was a part of God’s sovereign plan and brings glory to him.
With Jones we see an opportunity for her glorify God in light of what is for her a major disappointment. A loss like that can be devastating but it can also serve as a powerful way to demonstrate grace in defeat and as a refining tool. What better opportunity to testify to God’s glory and goodness then in a low moment? Why can a Christian do that? Because a Christian rests in the knowledge that even our defeats are used by God for his glory. They teach us priorities, patience, and persistence and remind us that a moment of athletic (or business, or academic, or family, etc.) achievement pales when viewed in the grand scheme of God’s redemptive plan.
In Scripture we see examples of this all through the Psalms. David praises God when things are good and things are bad. Yes, there are times when he cries out in his frustration and pain but he always comes back to God and his goodness and his sovereignty. Athletes like Jones and Douglas who profess Christ have opportunities on very public stages to give God glory in both victory and defeat and there is no doubt that God is glorified in both. Just look at Jesus. God becomes a servant and washes the dirty feet of those who for generations refused to bow the knee to him. The king becomes a pauper to redeem those who would reject him. The bridegroom loves the bride even though the bride has been unfaithful. The creator is killed by the creation. Yes, God knows what it is like to be both adulated and rejected and be glorified in both. So as Christians the question isn’t whether or not God helped Gabby Douglas win or caused Lolo Jones to be just slow enough to miss the podium, the question is whether or not God is glorified in both victory and defeat. Clearly the answer is yes.