A couple of weeks ago, when Lance Armstrong was finally forced into laying bare his secrets to a suspicious public, I was disappointed along with everyone else. Because I like Lance Armstrong. I followed his career, I read his book (turned out, it really wasn’t about the Bike), and I was thankful that there were still heroes to look up to.
Earlier in his life, Lance Armstrong has spoken out as an atheist. He doesn’t believe in God. But I think that he’s wrong, not about God, just about how he does not believe in one.
Sports Illustrated did a fascinating article on Lance last year when the world he had carefully constructed was just starting to crumble.
“Armstrong lives as he rides — surrounded by a cocoon of aides and helpers, his gimlet eyes focused on victory…. The self-described atheist has become a deity… but the inquiry’s findings may cause the Armstrong faithful to ask, Was the miracle a mirage?” —Selena Roberts and David Epstein, Sports Illustrated, 2011
His eyes were focused on victory.
Victory. Which is a god of the ancient world.
Actually the god’s name was Nike.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The Sport of Idolatry
I think it’s fascinating how easily we dismiss the ancient world as superstitious. But we sacrifice and bleed for the exact same gods they did.
Now I love sports, I love playing and watching them. I’ve been in fights over them as a player on the field and a fan in the stands. (Once I was actually at a Soccer Game in Greece where my section lit the stands on fire…before the game even started!) But I want you to imagine if you weren’t so immersed in our culture, if you didn’t understand and already have categories for what you were watching.
You would see the stadiums filled with people who had painted their face and body, you would hear them cheer and moan, as they watched from a distance someone else perform some kind of act. If you didn’t know what you were seeing I imagine you would reach for religious words like Temple or Clergy or Worship.
Not worship of the team, or the sport, but to Victory.
Back in the first century, the popular religion during Jesus time always showed God as being on the side of winners. He was the victor for the Greeks. He was the one who stood on the side of the powerful. He was the God who you were talking about when you wanted to intimidate your enemies. This God took sides, and he always sided with the winners.
So think about this for just a second, it’s not just saying that God loves the winners more. It’s saying to see who God loves, watch who wins.
That was the world that Jesus entered into, and it’s almost impossible to understand just how radically Jesus was changing the way they thought of God. It’s impossible because it has to change the way we think of God. It was ridiculous to the Greeks to think that God could ever lose and even be a God of the losers.