Giving Up on Fair Play


I stopped watching the Athens Olympics long before the end. A huge fan of the Winter Olympics, I’ve devoted slightly less attention to the Summer Games over the years. In the future, I suspect I will not be watching any of the Summer Olympics.

I dropped out of watching pro sports when the money overwhelmed the sport. I dropped out of college sports for the same reason. Now with the Olympics bestowing winning athletes with endorsements that crowd out the medals, I think this may be my last Summer Games. What is at stake is not simply being the best at what you do, but turning medals into lucrative deals.

Is it me or is everyone doped up on some chemical in these Games? How many medals have been stripped away? The Wall Street Journal did an interesting piece a few days ago noting how some of the winners in this Olympics were perpetual also-rans, sporting middling times and scores for years, only to suddenly show a burst in speed and skill in just the last few months leading up to the event they later won. In women’s weightlifting, the three top finishers showed ludicrous amounts of improvement since Sydney, numbers that should cause people to scratch their heads (or in the case of some of those competitors, their beards.) Others have noted that if one athlete on a team in a single sport is a human test tube, the coaches of that team are probably doping the rest, too; those others simply did not get caught.

Should we even go into the judging fiascos? Years ago during the Cold War, we knew their judges were ripping us off, and they knew it of ours, too. But now with so much money at stake, a couple thousandths of a point here and there translates into millions of potential dollars—or not, if you happen to be the one who irked the Malaysian judge by putting on your right shoe first while waiting for your score rather than the left one. (You just don’t know how twitchy anyone is anymore.)

No one truly worries about fairness. Does Nike hire you to shill their shoes simply because you play fair? If that were true, then there should be a knock at my door any second now. Nope, even “amateur” sports is about staking your claim in the Q-ratings so you can get your mug plastered on the side of a downtown bus. Check out the milk moustaches on Kerri Walsh and Misty May!

So I’m done.

The Bible says:

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
—Ecclesiastes 9:11

Sometimes the best winds up number two. Sometimes the genius ends his life living in poverty. It’s not fair, but it is part of being human. We hate to see it, but are glad when it is not us—at least we like to think it won’t be us one day.

Truth is, we Christians must always live this side of heaven as the also-rans. Living to serve the Lord puts us in an automatic number two position. Living to serve others bumps us down even more. It is not ours to ask the Lord to sit on His left or right, but simply to do His will.

The young missionary who floats speared to death in an Ecuadorian river is not seeking fairness. The elderly man living in the ghetto who gave the best years of his life handing out food to those even poorer than himself does not ask to be justified in his actions. The minister who cleans up the remains of a teen suicide so the parents will not see the outcome will never question the fact that the media ignores his act of kindness. The woman who exists to many today only as a tarnished brass plaque beneath a stained glass window, but who taught little boys and girls about Jesus for fifty years, does not mind that her name continues to fade from church memories as the generations go on. All of them have a greater reward.

Fairness is not ours to demand.

5 thoughts on “Giving Up on Fair Play

  1. Anonymous


    What about vindication? You day we can’t expect fair play in this life but what about vindication, by which I mean being shown to be right, even if we have no other reward. I think of Job who had to repent but was also vindicated of the false charges of his friends, why can we not expect that at least, that others will see that, whatever the price we chose to follow God.
    Why should that be too much to ask? Windblown

  2. The race not being always to the strong is more a function of the fact that on any given day, the best person does not win. I don’t know that this is an issue of vindication. Vindication does not change the fact that the dark horse beat the favorite, unless you are the dark horse.

    If revenge is a dish best served cold, then vindication must certainly be that three-day old piece of pizza you find in its box out in the dorm hall. Yeah, it’s edible, but not always satisfying. The fresh pie right out of the oven certainly beats it all the time.

    I speak from personal experience. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been vindicated in the things I said or did that at the time were resoundingly spurned by others. But when you’ve been rejected that profoundly, vindication doesn’t feel all that great—at least not to me.

    Vindication is one tiny step from pride and revenge. I know that I don’t handle vindication very well; most people don’t, I think. We want to revel in someone else’s admitting we were right all along or cheer when a former employer who did not listen to us capsizes because the business hits the “iceberg” we foresaw. It’s human nature. Too few people have the humility needed for graciously accepting vindication. And they are made all the fewer by the fact so many depart this life before earthly vindication comes.

    We know all about heaven and know we will be rewarded there. There is our ultimate vindication, the only real one. But our culture today no longer looks to heaven as the final reward, so any vindication we have there is too often seen as pie-in-the-sky. We all know that is wrong. Hopefully we can recover a godly vindication and accept it for what it is. Better to be the poor Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham than to be the rich man ablaze in eternal torment.

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for responding Dan.

    I do agree that our final vindication is in the life to come. However I think of both Job and David, both imperfect but beloved of God, who pleaded for vindication in this life. I think of Job’s vindication, without it the narrative of Job would be deeply unsatisfying, and untrue.
    Vindication lets us know that we are on the right path, that our struggles have not been wholly vain. However unlike your situation in my own history vindication eludes me. My accusers continue to shame me for trying to follow God.
    Remember we are like dust and our days are like grass, is it to much to ask to see the goodness of the Lord in this brief time on earth? Windblown

  4. Windblown,

    The goodness that may come from being vindicated is only one fraction of all the goodness God has wrapped up for us. If we do not see vindication this side of eternity, it does not mean no other goodness can be had. The very fact that we have come to know Christ is proof of God’s goodness.

    I do not disagree with you on the hope for goodness to be seen. A verse that is one of my all-time favorites is this:

    I would have despaired unless I had believed that
    I would see the goodness of the LORD
    In the land of the living.Wait for the LORD;
    Be strong and let your heart take courage;
    Yes, wait for the LORD.
    —Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB – emphasis added)

    Seeing the goodness in the land of the living is a promise of God, I believe. But whether that extends to seeing oneself vindicated in this lifetime may be another issue. That has to be left up to God to fulfill in His time, a time that makes all things beautiful.

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