The Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games is tonight. I can’t remember an Olympics more troubled than this one.
Problems began with a Zika outbreak in Brazil that led 150 health officials to recommend moving the games out of Rio de Janeiro, the host city. Spectators will be greeted with demonstrations, violent crime, poverty, and infrastructure failures. According to ABC News, the event could cost Brazil as much as $15 billion in losses.
Last week, a foot and other body parts washed up on a shore where Olympians will be playing volleyball. Nearly 60,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2014; the country has been called “the deadliest place in the world outside Syria.” Assaults on beaches or in parks after dark are common. Drug gangs run the streets of many Brazilian cities.
Health experts are warning athletes competing in ocean events not to put their heads underwater. Raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria has contaminated the water, especially where the rowing and sailing races will take place. Viral levels are up to 1.7 million times what would be considered unhealthy in the US. Ingesting three teaspoons of the water is likely to make an athlete sick.
And yet 10,500 athletes from 206 nations will be competing in twenty-eight different sports, hoping to win one or more of the 4,924 medals that will be awarded. Some 500,000 foreign travelers are purchasing 7.5 million tickets to attend.
The rest of us will be watching more than 6,000 hours of television coverage. There will be $5.4 billion lost in productivity from employees watching the Olympics while at work. Seventy-two percent of business professionals plan to watch the Games; 3.6 billion people will tune in worldwide.
Why? Because we all want to make history, and if we can’t make it, we want to watch it.
The athletes will never forget participating in the Games. Those who win medals will be known for their achievement for the rest of their lives. The rest of us will watch to see them succeed and will feel a part of history when they do.
There is something about us that wants to outlive us. That’s one reason donors give money to finance buildings that bear their names. It’s why nearly every sport has a Hall of Fame. But the problem is that the future seldom remembers the present. Who has won the most Olympic gold medals in history? (Michael Phelps, with eighteen so far—I had to look it up.) Brett Favre headlines tomorrow’s NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony; can you name even one of last year’s inductees? (I couldn’t.)
Here’s the amazing paradox: Obedience to God is seldom rewarded on this fallen planet, but it is always rewarded in heaven. Everything we do for God’s glory is also for our eternal good.
The contrast between Olympic athletes and faithful Christians is this: “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25). Which will you seek today?