More Than Who We Are
August 24, 2016
This past weekend marked the close of the Olympic Games in Rio, and for all of the troubles and controversies have occurred (sorry, Ryan Lochte, et al.) we witnessed even more marvelous and inspiring performances from athletes like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Simone Biles. Personally, my favorite moment was watching South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk set a new world record in the 400m run: 43.03. One lap around the track in 43 seconds!!
What made Van Niekerk’s performance even more compelling was that he was coached by a 74 year-old great-grandmother, Anna Botha. His mother, Odessa Swarts, was an athlete herself decades ago but never had the opportunity to try for Olympic gold because of the international sports ban placed upon South Africa during the time of Apartheid.
Phelps, Bolt, Biles, Van Niekerk and indeed all of the athletes who participated in the Rio games embodied the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius—“Faster, Higher, Stronger”—as well as the even deeper human desire to be more than who we are.
That’s a good desire. It has fueled countless generations of people to not only strive for greatness in sport but in all of the areas of our lives. It got us to the moon and helped us to find a cure for polio; it gave us the pyramids of Egypt and the Sistine Chapel in Rome; it inspired Handel’s Messiah and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It has driven parents to sacrifice for the sake of their children.
But as the story of Adam and Eve reminds us, there is also a shadow side to this desire for greatness. We can forget that, while we have been blessed with the spark of the divine, we are ultimately still creatures. There is only one God…and it’s not any of us!
Adam and Eve were incredibly blessed: God had not only created them but had given them all that they needed to have an abundant life together and to share that abundant life with the generations who would follow them. But they fell prey to the temptation that they could be like gods and could live independent of the One who had formed them and breathed life into them.
As Adam and Eve quickly discovered, as gifted as we human beings are and as wonderful the things we can do, we are still only human. We disobey God, we sin and we are forced to come to terms with the consequences of that sin. The same aspirations that enabled us to harness the power of fire also gave us the atomic bomb; the desire to belong has brought us to the font of baptism, but is has also driven us to exclude or even persecute others who are not part of the group and build walls rather than bridges.
We know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always do what is good. When confronted with our sins we find it easier to engage in denial or blaming others rather than accept our own need for conversion. Thankfully, God has never given up on us. Each day but especially in this Year of Mercy we can be reminded how God’s grace enables us to be more than who we are. +