The gospel of the Olympics

Along with millions around the globe I watched the  opening ceremony of the Beijing olympics. The ceremony told the story of Chinese civilization but then at some stage during the middle ages shot forward into a kind of future world, in which children wished for a better world free of global warming and a giant planet emerged, symbolic of a united humanity.

What we were watching was a worship service. A worship service with a congregation of millions, who came together to worship the two great implicit religions of our age, sport and nationalism. We witnessed a sermon which preached a humanist gospel and an achievable humanist heaven on earth.

However as the athletes of the various nationalities marched in a show of harmony, the soliders of Russia and Georgia went to war and armed conflict again visited Europe. Today as the medal count in Beijing rose alongside the casualty count in Georgia, the humanist gospel of the Olympics was punctuated by the reality of the human condition, and we were reminded of just how far we are from the dream of global peace.

Pretty much every human on this planet wishes that we could all come together in peace, however where things fall down is our plan to achieve global peace. Without a plan or action, all wishes for global peace and unity are pipe dreams. One of the great myths of our age is that if we all just wished and hoped for global peace it would some how come to fruition. That if we just dropped our dogma and our beliefs and came together, we would finally unite the world. Religions of revelation with plans to change the world, are viewed with suspicion, the contemporary wisdom tells us that it is indeed strongly held beliefs that ruin our plans for global peace.

However is this true? Does faith and commitment work against global peace and justice.

The great theologian and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in his book The Open Secret subversively asked of people who wished for global peace and harmony,

“What is your program for tackling the problems of poverty and oppression? Are you not the victim of an illusion if you imagine that a program for creating economic justice on a world scale will unite mankind? Is it not precisely in the conflict of ideologies that use words like ‘justice’ and ‘freedom’ as their slogans that the most murderous conflicts are generated? What is your program for the unity of of humankind? Around what center and in what organized form do you propose to unite mankind?”

Newbigin noted that anyone who wishes to change the world, must have a program and a set of beliefs that will help them accomplish their goal, and therefore their own gospel of how to change the world. There is no ‘value free’ sentimentalist wish which can bring about a united humanity. Thus all wishes for world peace are indeed religious statements.

So the Christian finds themselves following a very different gospel than that shown a couple of nights ago in Beijing, it is not a gospel of grand, ostentatious media displays, it is not a gospel which pushes under the rug all of our human conflicts and brokenness during the game while thousands of miles away soldiers die on lonely battlefields. The gospel that the Christian follows is not found in the glare of TV news cameras. Instead we have the gospel as found in a book. In the bible we find an incredible deep and broad dream for the world, that is being revealed to us in history, Eugene Peterson in his wonderful book Eat this book writes,

“Our imaginations have to be revamped to take in this large immense world of God’s revelation in contrast to the small, cramped world of “figuring it out”. We learn to live, imagine, believe, love, converse in this immense and richly organic and detailed world to which we are given access by our Old and New Testaments.”

Let us again whisper in the streets the gospels stories of a God who came to earth to die as a man on a roman torture devise so that the world may know peace.


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