Nearly thirty years ago, I saw the movie Chariots of Fire for the first time. I loved the movie and am not ashamed to say that I cried through many parts of it. This past week, it was on TV and I watched it again (again meaning for the sixth or seventh time total), and I cried again. I love this movie and really admire the character of Eric Liddell. If you don’t know about him, watch the movie or look it up on the Web. In very brief summary, Eric was an Olympic track champion, rugby player, and missionary in China. The way he lived his life was inspiring because he stood by his beliefs no matter what the cost.
Why does Eric appeal to me so much? Maybe this is obvious but not totally to me, so I am going to try to figure it out. I think it is a combination of his values, his dedication to serving God, his kindness, his gentleness, his love of people, his selflessness, and so on. In reality, many people have these qualities and don’t touch me in the same way, so what is the difference? I’m not sure I know; maybe it’s because he was so great, athletically in this case, and yet carried himself with such humility. What I mean is:
- Many men are not great and are not humble. I have a very hard time with these people.
- Many men are not great but are humble. I can respect this.
- Some men are great but not humble. I can respect this too.
- Very few men are great and humble too. These are the ones I truly admire.
There should be a word for these great humble men like great + humble = grumble, but that doesn’t sound quite right.To add to Eric’s greatness in athletics, he was great as a humanitarian and in so many other ways. He truly was a man to be admired – a hero.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Eric says:
“I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
This is not a great quote by itself, but Eric exemplified this pleasure when he ran. In the movie and in real life, when he ran, you can see that build up of pleasure within him. His mouth would be wide open and his head tipped back so far that you wonder how he could see where he was running. He seemed to overflow with the type of joy you expect from a child at Christmas. What an incredible statement of his spirit that he would be capable of this pureness of joy. Is this what pure joy would feel Ike? The kind of joy that only comes to those that are sufficiently good. How many of us are capable of being filled with pure joy?
As for greatness, I think many of us aspire to be great or to do something great or way out of the ordinary. Some of us will even achieve this greatness because God has given us a gift or talent, or because we have worked hard for it, or because we have sacrificed greatly for it, or because we have paid a huge price for it. And at this time, we will deserve the title of greatness, but now, can we wear that title with humility? Eric Liddell did and gave all the credit to God. Before running the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympic games, he taught a sermon in a nearly church. He quoted a scripture from Isiah:
40:29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
40:30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
This is his secret. This is the secret for us all. This is what made him “grumble.”
My favorite Eric Liddell quote from the movie:
“And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.”
This is all about heart.
A lot has happened in my life in thirty years. I went from being a high school student watching this movie, to a husband and father watching this movie. I went form wondering what scholarships I could get and trying to find a girl to like me to trying to understand how to raise children, keep a job to support my family, and worrying about the future. I am glad that this movie touches me in the same way and for the same reasons it did so many years ago. It tells me that the things I valued and admired when life was so much simpler and things were so black and white and the world was full of so much wonder and awe and hope are still the same things I value now when maybe some dreams will not come true and challenges I could never have seen have crossed my path. I am grateful that however tainted life has made me that I still hope, and dream, and believe.
Thank goodness for people like Eric Liddell in the world and movies like Chariots or Fire.