I LOVE the Olympics, and can’t wait to watch the Games. I am always amazed at the human body’s ability to soar to new heights of performance. Even more, I love to hear the stories of national and personal hurdles overcome and the determination many Olympians exert in order to get to the Games. The human spirit’s ability to prevail over adversarial blockades never ceases to astound.
In the past year, as many regions of the world have violently exploded over national and ethnic divisions and boundaries, I’ve read various bumper stickers and posters taking jabs at national pride as the cause of the world’s woes. “If we could all just be one, big, happy family….”
But if the Olympic Games teach anything, it is that national pride does not have to be divisive. In fact a healthy dose of national pride, as athletes from all countries, languages and walks of life gather to compete in good sportsmanship-like fashion, can break down barriers and bring us together as a unifying body of human beings like nothing else I can think of.
I was a modestly good athlete in high school, so that probably fuels my interest in the Olympic Games. In solo matches, I placed well in GAA swim meets, performed adequately on the low dive (the high dive terrified me), and excelled at tennis with a once-wicked serve. So when I watch American icons like Michael Phelps and Serena Williams, I am dumbstruck over their skill and determination. They are our national treasures, and this is never more true than during the Olympics.
But if we are not careful, pride over these prized athletes can become an obsessive private and national ambition, and when it does, destruction often follows. Many examples come to mind, Penn State’s recent problems for instance…an athletic program that lost touch with what is important. But here is one thought you might not have considered…a vivid object lesson from the Old Testament about national pride and the God who created us:
Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist,
and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord,
and put it around my waist.
And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have
bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there
in a cleft of the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded.
And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from
there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates,
and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold,
the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the
pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear
my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to
serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.
For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel
and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me
a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen. -Jeremiah 13: 1-11
What was the “pride of Judah,” the “great pride of Jerusalem”? The Temple, designed by David and built by Solomon, Israel’s two greatest kings. The Temple was THE emblem of Jewish national pride and the status symbol of God’s favor. Unfortunately, by Jeremiah’s time, the people were so blind in their national pride and their status as God’s chosen people that they had forgotten God Himself in the process. While they carried on Temple worship, they were no longer worshiping the Holy One of Israel.
History tells us what happened to the Temple in Jerusalem; it was destroyed, just as Jeremiah (and other prophets) had predicted. A destruction ordained by God and carried out by Judah’s enemies. With the ‘apple’ of the nation’s ‘eye’ in ruins, God hoped they would once again look up for their redemption.
Let this be a lesson to us as we watch the Olympic Games, to look to God for our redemption and to remember our purpose as His children while enjoying our national pride. No where in Scripture is that purpose spelled out more clearly than in this passage: to be “a people, a name, a praise and a glory” to our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.