Medal Count

It’s the Olympics, and most of the world is putting great stock in gold, silver, and bronze. Some small countries have won a medal for the first time in their history. Great Britain has enjoyed a surge in the medal count the past few days after being shut out of the gold for the first few days of the games. China leads the total number of medals won and the number of gold–until the US inches ahead for a day. Russia and France, Brazil, Italy and Germany are doing their best to collect a respectable amount of hardware, too.

I’ve spent a good part of my adult life either playing sports or coaching, so I understand the drive to win, to beat out that opponent, to come out on top after hours of preparation.

In truth, sports are not particularly different from all of life. In fact, I maintain they are a microcosm of life, with all the joys and disappointments, unexpected turns of events, unfair circumstances, conflict, and camaraderie. And success.

But what happens to the hardware in the end?

After the dust settles, and everyone has seen the gold or silver or bronze hanging around the winners’ necks, what becomes of them? Some go into safes. I know this because recently the news reported that an athlete had given his medal to his parents to put away for him. Their home was broken into and the safe, with the medal inside, removed. No indication that the thieves were after Olympic medal, but nevertheless, it’s gone.

Another athlete auctioned his medal off to raise money for the needy. Others have said they put their medals with their other trophies. Some have given a medal to a parent or some other supportive person who they credit with making it possible for them to be successful.

Perhaps when these athletes grow old they’ll take out their medals, polish them up, and remember their glory days.

One thing’s for sure. There will be a day when every athlete leaves their hard-won medal behind.

Peter mentions the perishable quality of gold in his first letter: “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable . . .”

A little later, he makes the point again: “you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold . . .”

James brings it up, too, in addressing wealth: “Your gold and your silver have rusted . . .”

Paul specifically mentions the Olympic prize–a laurel wreath, at the time–in his letter to the Corinthians: “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath . . .”

All this focus, all this attention, all this talk, all the conditioning, training, strategizing . . . and the prize is ephemeral, even in its significance. Who remembers the winner of the 1952 200 meter high hurdles? Or the marathon or high jump? Whatever fame or glory so many of the winning athletes gained hasn’t lasted and serves them not at all in the life to come.

I’m not bringing an indictment on athletes. Remember, I think sports gives us a snapshot of all of life. I think we all are going for our gold, whatever we perceive it to be–relational bliss, a home with the mortgage paid off, a new car, another pair of shoes, a better job, a book contract, a pay raise, even a parental pat on the back or atta boy.

But what if we put our energies toward the imperishable rather than the perishable?

Peter says the imperishable is “the living and enduring word of God.”

All flesh is like grass
And all its glory like the flower of grass
The grass withers
And the flower falls off
But the word of the Lord endures forever.

He also said earlier that we were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold “but with precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” By implication, then, the redemptive work of Christ is imperishable, too.

The living and enduring Word, and the precious blood. I wonder what it would look like if the bulk of our efforts focused on the imperishable rather than the perishable.

Published in: on August 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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