Beyond the Chariots
by John UpChurch
If you've heard of Eric Liddell, you probably know him as the Chariots of Fire guy. The Scottish Olympian famously turned down what most people thought was his best chance at a gold medal, the 100-meter dash. He did so because the trials for the race fell on a Sunday and he wouldn’t budge on this matter of faith. Instead, he entered the 400-meter event, qualified, and then stormed to the finish line with a new world record. Although the theme from the movie wasn’t playing back in 1924, the whole thing makes you think it should have been as he rounded the turns with his flailing gait.
Credits roll, end of story… right? Hold your chariots. Liddell’s faith carried him far beyond a single Parisian race. After the Olympics, Eric gave up running completely—at least the type of running done on a racetrack. Instead, he focused on a much greater race. A year after standing on the platform in triumph, he arrived in China as a missionary and, later, as a pastor. No endorsements or bling, just an impoverished country and a chance to share the good news.
During the worst days of World War II, Liddell chose to stay in Japanese-controlled China to serve the people he’d come to love. However, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese military became more and more suspicious of foreigners and forbade them to preach or teach. In 1943, the Japanese sent Eric and many others to an internment camp in Weihsien. Even there, though, the preacher continued leading others in worship and being “Uncle Eric” to dozens of orphaned children.
He also made an incredible sacrifice.
During the war, Japan and Britain made a prisoner exchange deal, a deal that included the famous Scottish runner. Liddell had a wife and children waiting for him in Canada. He had every reason to go. But instead, he gave up his spot for a pregnant woman—a fact unknown even to his family until the Chinese government revealed it over 60 years later. Eric himself would never tell either because he died of a brain tumor in 1945, not long before the war ended. His friends at the camp didn’t remember him as the Olympian; they remembered him as someone who did what God called him to do.
Liddell realized that this world has nothing on the kingdom of the Son. We can win accolades, money, fame here, but none of it can touch the far, far greater rewards of Christ. In Him, redemption makes earthly recognition nothing more than dust. In Him, forgiveness makes even the greatest fortunes seem empty.
Intersecting Faith & Life: As Christians, our address has changed—and with that changes our whole way of putting value on things. If there’s nothing beyond this world, then by all means we should live to pile up accolades and plaudits. We have nothing else to live for. But if we’re focused on Christ and His kingdom, everything else just fades out. We’re no longer running for the things we can see.
For Further Reading
The Characters of Christmas is a podcast created to help you take a fresh look at the Christmas story by getting to know the minor characters that played a part in Jesus’ birth. It is the companion to Dan Darling's book "The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus."