How Simone Biles Helps Us Understand Eric Liddell

By Jordan Standridge, reposted from The Cripplegate.

How many takes have you seen about Simone Biles and her decision to drop out of several events at the Olympics?

Everyone seems to have an opinion.

There are people that are angry at her. There are people that are thankful for her. There are people calling for more discussions about mental health. There are people blaming the horrid sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of Nassar. It seems like everyone is talking about it.

I happen to be re-reading Hamilton’s brilliant biography on Eric Liddell called For the Glory right now. And though Eric Liddell has always been a favorite missionary of mine, and his biographies have brought me often to tears, I never truly grasped the vitriol his country leveled at him after pulling out of the Olympics, as much as this week, after watching the response to the Biles situation.

The biographers tried to make it clear in their writing. They explained that he was called a traitor. They explained that he received death threats. They explained that every single newspaper had the front page dedicated to him. They explained that everyone in Scotland became a biblical scholar overnight trying to prove from their dusty Bibles that the Bible doesn’t say you can’t run on Sundays. But I think this Simone Biles situation gives a little insight on exactly how impactful his decision was.

And it helps us see how faithful Eric Liddell was to Christ.

Not only did he give up a potential medal for the sake of his love for God, but after the Olympics he decided to give up his life for His sake. He gladly gave up his own glory for the glory of God.

One biographer, I read years ago, recounted the story of Liddell’s first speaking opportunity. Though a known introvert (some, even his own parents! questioned his love for Christ as he never spoke openly about his faith), he was asked to speak at a rugby outreach (he was on the Scottish national Rugby team). When asked, the story goes, he sat down on a chair and cried as he thought about it for several minutes, before finally raising his head and saying, “I’ll do it”. He went on to become a sought-after speaker who was unashamed of the Gospel and even preached in Paris on the Sunday he was supposed to run his 100 meter race at the Olympics.

It was clear that for Liddell, running for gold came second to running for Christ. And it was this eternal mindset that caused so much uproar in the minds of those living for this life.

A different biographer, remarked that he pictured Eric Liddell, leaving Paris with a medal around his neck (remarkably won in the 400-meter race) on a train back home, wondering to himself how Scotland would react this time when they find out he had purchased for himself a one-way ticket to China.

Obviously, I’m not trying to compare Eric Liddell and Simone Biles as their situations were very different, but the incredible number of opinions about her actions this past week helps us grasp how monumental Eric Liddell’s decision was less than a hundred years ago and helps us grasp how incredible his love for Christ was.

I hope that you are reminded about how pointless it is to live for this life.

Eric gladly gave up fame and fortune in this life to gain it in the next. He set aside his comfort for the sake of seeing Chinese souls exalt Christ. He was willing to have his whole country turn against him (twice!) for the sake of trying to turn a country to Christ.

I am reminded about Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:26,

For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul?

I’m sure Eric had these verses reverberating in his heart as he made his eternal minded decisions not so long ago. And I pray that we too pick up his baton and like him are willing to give up the world for the sake of our soul and the souls of many lost around the world.

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash


Jordan is a missionary in Rome, Italy. He and his wife Jenny have 4 children: Davide, Matteo, Nico, and Gabriella. Check out their website at Standridge.org.

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There are 11 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

....with the comparison of Miss Biles and Mr. Liddell, since their cases are so different.  I'm a huge fan of both, by the way, but in Biles' case, she was losing where she was in her spins and such, and that can (google Julissa Gomez if you doubt this) result in breaking your neck.  No matter what was causing her to lose her focus, I would have hoped that we could all agree that Simone Biles' neck is way the heck more important than a notch in the medal count for the U.S.

Regarding the whys, I don't know in full, and perhaps even Miss Biles does not, but the possibilities involve a combination of the pressure cooker that is competitive gymnastics to begin with (I remember watching MSU's men's team lining up every day in the training room to get taped/etc.. for their practice--it's a brutal sport), the abuse she endured at the hands of Larry Nassar and the Karolyis, and the pathetic response made by everybody else (MSU, FBI, other law enforcement agencies, USA Gymnastics, US Olympic Committee, etc..).  How many of us would survive that kind of nonsense, let alone thrive through it?

I'd tell you what my response to those who are angry at her is, but the moderators would remove it.  :^)

Liddell, on the other hand, has the similarity with Biles in his humble beginnings and striving a long time after an athletic dream, but his withdrawal from an event simply has to do with conscience and not wanting to work on the day he considered a Holy Sabbath.  There was no doubt some stress involved, but all in all, his withdrawal resulted from strength, while Biles' presumably resulted from the wounds she'd endured.  Great people, both of them, but very different.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I'm also not seeing a good comparison between the two.

In the case of Simone Biles, she doesn't answer to fans for her decision to withdraw from multiple events for whatever reason.  It did seem a little suspicious that at first, the only reason given was "an unspecified mental issue," and the explanation about losing her place in the air only came out after a couple days of blowback from various press sources.  However, it's not unreasonable to give her the benefit of the doubt, since as you noted, an olympic medal is not worth permanent injury, and the press hardly gets things right these days very often.

I will say that the media leadup to the Olympics, with her being called the "Greatest of all time" (which she apparently bought into, having goats stitched on her uniforms, etc.), and then so many opinion pieces coming out which called her a "hero" and "courageous" for withdrawing didn't help the situation or the negative press that came out.  Articles were going back and forth about how her worth doesn't depend on medals, etc.  And that's correct -- her worth as a person doesn't depend on performance.  However, whether she likes it or not, being the "greatest of all time" in a sport does depend on how one does in that sport, and how one handles the resulting pressure.

Biles is not a loser (or worth less as a human) for withdrawing for health reasons.  However, withdrawing doesn't make her a hero for doing so or especially courageous either.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

He is comparing the reactions.

Read the article again

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

He is comparing the reactions.

Read the article again

Don, that's certainly true.  I was responding more to Bert in that comment than I was the article.  However, I still don't find the situations (or reactions) exactly equivalent.

Unlike the movie presentation in "Chariots of Fire," Liddell knew months ahead of time what the published race schedule was, and began to train for the 200/400m races (instead of his preferred 100m) long before getting to the Olympics.  I'm sure he got plenty of negative press (though I haven't studied it like the article author), but the situation was quite different in that he was already planning ahead (thus allowing another athlete the spot and chance to win at 100 meters), and of course, instead of just dropping out, he raced and won an entirely different race than he was planning to run in the first place.

No doubt he experienced immense pressure to do what the country wanted, rather than what he thought God wanted, but he still was willing to find another solution that would let him represent king and country without going back on his commitment to God.

I can respect anyone who does what they believe is right in the face of huge public pressure to do otherwise, but I still find the author's comparison less than apt.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

So the author is maybe comparing the movie reaction to real life?

 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

No, he's simply expressing that when he read Liddell's story, the acrimony he received didn't really hit him. Then when he saw the criticism Biles got, he remembered the Liddell bio and it made more sense. 

——

Whenever we're done clarifying the point Jordon is making, I have another question:

They explained that everyone in Scotland became a biblical scholar overnight trying to prove from their dusty Bibles that the Bible doesn’t say you can’t run on Sundays.

- Jordan in I m opening article

Classic difference of conscience: is one day above another? How should we treat Sunday? Is there a Christian Sabbath? 

Jordon reports that Scots in general disagreed with Liddell's conviction not to run. And he seems to be implying (dusty Bibles) that the Scots were not dedicated Christians and only opened their Bibles when it came time to disapprove of Liddell's conviction. The implication is that the Scots were not as sincere in their faith and their concern for national pride in Olympic victory eclipsed their desire to obey God.

Perhaps this is due to the beauty of the Chariots of Fire movie, but I very seldom see anyone criticizing Liddell's conviction as unnecessary. 

How many of you, if you faced Liddell's choice, would feel free in your conscience to miss one Sunday service to represent your country in the Olympics?

Dan Miller's picture

So one person has said that he doesn't see one occurrence of athletic involvement on a Sunday as wrong. 

I agree.

josh p's picture

I agree as well but it doesn't diminish my respect for Liddell and the strength of his convictions. 

M. Osborne's picture

Two kinds of instances where I've faced this question:

The South Lawrence West Little League had a "farm league" and a true little league; one year my former farm league coach called me and said he'd pick me for his little league team but they practiced on Sunday nights and he knew that might be a problem. I said "thanks but no" and wound up playing in farm league another year. (Yeah, I wasn't much of an athlete.) Observation: he respected my family enough not to pick me and then put us in a pickle.

My first job at Market Basket had very flexible scheduling for high schoolers and never made me work a regular Sunday, but they had an annual inventory night the first or second Sunday in January after store close, and it was considered mandatory. I expect if I had put in for some kind of religious exception, they would have granted it, but I complied without complaint. 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Mark_Smith's picture

Liddell was an athlete from a different era. His Christian convictions about making Sunday a day of rest drove him to refuse to participate in the Paris Olympics race.

Biles is a millionaire who gladly took the label GOAT, applying it to herself more than once, even putting it on a uniform she used. Then disaster struck. The Olympics were delayed by COVID. Then Japan restricted travel to the Olympics (meaning her family was not there.) Then there was the battle over whether she could use ritalin in Japan. Whatever all the causes she lost confidence and stared suffering "the twisties." At the very least hers is a story of money and hubris that fell apart around her. Her story is so far removed from Liddell that it is laughable to put them in the same category. 

Even if the story is about the response, it is still apples and oranges. Biles is a media star worth millions and all over the place on commercials. She wanted one more splash in the pool as the GOAT. It then collapsed around her. Liddell was a man more interested in honoring God than his country. Biles wanted to pad her pocket some more...

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