Chariots of Fire. It had been several years since I’d seen it, and boy, was it good. Released in 1981 (the same year it won Best Picture), the film might feel a little slow to modern audiences, but it is worth its two hours. Moody European landscape, quick-witted dialogue, and an iconic soundtrack are just icing on the cake in this story of the 1924 Olympics runners (that 80’s synth still feels oh so fresh).
What moved me most was Eric Liddell’s face while running. Each time he ran, he wore an expression of utter, unmistakable, unadulterated, JOY.
His joy reminds me of the Resurrection.
Feeling God’s Pleasure
Perhaps the most quoted line from Chariots is when Liddell speaks with his sister (who wants him to give up running in favor of joining the ministry). He admits God made him for a purpose, “but He also made me fast,” Liddell adds. “And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
In his races, we see that pleasure etched on Liddell’s face…and the perplexed expression of Abrahams, as he watches. He cannot fathom such contentment.
In 2016, Duncan Hamilton released a biography of Liddell, For the Glory: The Untold Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire. Only the first third of the book details what the movie covers. The rest chronicles Liddell’s life after he won a gold medal. It recounts Liddell’s missionary work in China…and his death in the Japanese work camp. The book was written with utmost respect for Liddell, but I couldn’t help feeling like it contained some of Abraham’s perplexity. Hamilton seems to feel a measure of sadness at Liddell’s life, or at least, at the last third of it. And if it weren’t for one thing, perhaps such sadness would be justified.
The People Most Deserving of Pity
1 Corinthians 15:19 is a verse that sometimes makes me squirm: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (NIV). To someone who does not hold the Orthodox Christian view of eternity, Liddell’s life might look like a waste. “He had so much potential!” someone might scream. “He could have continued running! Why did he throw it all away and move to China???”
If not for the resurrection, they might be right.
This Changes Everything
I doubt Liddell felt his life was a waste. He understood the verse that follows: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Perhaps what grounded him while he existed in squalid work camps was what buoyed him while he traversed track and countryside. If Christ had not risen, how could he maintain hope under torture? If Christ had not risen, how could he feel His pleasure?
Because Christ is risen, we too have hope.
Making It Real
Of course, it’s easy for me to type those words on my laptop from the comfort of my living room. I’ve never known that kind of suffering.
But if scripture is true, because Christ is risen, we do indeed have hope.
We have hope in our workplaces.
We have hope in our families.
We have hope in our schools.
We have hope in our churches.
We have hope in our cities.
We have hope in the nations.
Moreover, we have joy. Psalm 16:11 may always be my favorite verse: “In your presence, O Lord, is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures evermore.”
Perhaps Eric Liddell felt the Lord’s pleasure because he felt close to Him. Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated that closeness. He lives, and He invites us into closeness, into hope, and into joy.
Where You Do Feel His Pleasure?
What are the spaces you feel nearest to Him? Not that feelings are everything, and not that you must feel near to be near.
But there might be spaces He’s inviting you into…for Liddell it was running. For me, it’s writing. For you…ask Him. And don’t think He doesn’t want to tell you. He died to be with you.
Like Liddell, you too, have a testimony to share.
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Photo by Robin Miller: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-rocky-stream-in-scottish-highlands-13534155/