To conclude this month’s “Running the Race” series on “Reel Christianity”, I wanted to share with you my favorite sports movie ever, and one of my favorite movies in general. “Chariots of Fire” is a British movie from 1981 about two runners, one a Jew and one a Christian, one in England and one in Scotland, who train for and compete in the 1924 Olympics. It’s fascinating how the movie parallels the events of both men, as they train in their own ways based on their own convictions, and makes us root for both of them, even at some times when we should be rooting against one or the other.
The Jewish runner is Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), who we see enter Cambridge University with a new friend, Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell). Almost immediately, Abrahams feels anti-Semitism in the staff and students at Cambridge, but that doesn’t stop him from making a name for himself by breaking a record at the campus by running around a courtyard there in less than the amount of time it takes for the clock to chime 12. He runs there against another student, Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), and beats him by a hair.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), the son of missionary parents to China, is encouraged by his friend Sandy McGrath (Struan Rodger) to pursue running, having proved himself as a great runner at a local competition and elsewhere in the past. Eric’s sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell), however, disapproves, saying that Eric should be on the mission field in China rather than running. Eric, too, is unsure about what to do. But in the meantime, while he is in Scotland, he is able to preach to a local congregation as well as run:
ERIC: I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard; it requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape—especially if you’ve got a bet on it! But how long does that last? You go home; maybe your dinner’s burned. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say ‘believe, have faith’ in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. …Jesus said, “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts ye truly seek Me, ye shall ever surely find Me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run the straight race.
Eventually, both Harold and Eric keep competing until they actually run against each other. And in a crushing blow, Harold looks to his side slightly and it costs him the race. His new girlfriend, Sybil Gordon (Alice Krige), tries to comfort him, but Harold is hard to satisfy. But when Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), an experienced running coach, comes along and offers to train Harold, he takes the offer and begins rigorous training.
Eric also continues training with Sandy and others, as Jennie still disapproves. But one day, Eric and Jennie go for a walk, and Eric tells her that he plans to return to the mission field in China, but he has to do some more training first.
ERIC: Jennie, you’ve got to understand. I believe God made me for a purpose—for China. But He also made me fast! And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. …It’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.
This monologue, by the way, is one of my favorites in any movie, because it means so much to me as a Christian. I have no interest in sports, but even in my passions for filmmaking, music, or whatever they might be, I feel that to succeed in what I do in those areas is to honor the God who gave them to me. To me, doing that is true worship.
So anyway, both Harold and Eric make it to the Olympics. Harold at first is still trying to get over anti-Semitism that he felt from Cambridge right before he left. And Eric enters the ship to Paris to compete learning that his first heat is on Sunday, and he feels that to compromise his faith and run on the Sabbath would be against God’s law. (This, however, is a very different issue that I would want to go into more detail about some time, but I will not do so today.) He talks to the Olympic committee, and Lord Lindsay actually helps get him into another race.
But despite the conflicts they go through, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell pull through and run their own races at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. And long story short, they both win: Harold for his family, and Eric for his God.
I remember my parents renting “Chariots of Fire” once many years ago when I was a kid, and it left a small impression on me, but I feel I was too young to really understand the story of Eric Liddell and his commitment to his faith. But after watching it again after I rededicated my life to Christ, I felt it was an incredible movie about serving God with the talents that He has given me. I feel that this is another component of running the race of faith “in such a way as to get the prize”, as we’ve learned in 1 Corinthians 9 this month.
And in this next month, I have a big chance to serve with the talents God gave me on a mission trip. As you read this, I’m actually not in the United States—I’m on a month-long internship with a missions organization with ministry in Peru and Ecuador. And so for the next few weeks, I’ve decided to use this blog as a way to share with my family and friends what I’m doing there. (I felt too lazy to create a brand-new blog just for that.) So yes, for the month of June, I won’t be talking about movies, but instead I’ll be talking as regularly as I can about what I’m doing in Peru and Ecuador—because I am indeed going to both countries. I can’t wait to share with you what God’s going to do in the next few weeks!