Watching the 2016 Olympics for the glory of Christ

August 5, 2016

There is something uniquely captivating about the Olympic games. They are a mix of awe and wonder as we witness people created in the image of God who have sacrificially honed their bodies and physical skills in phenomenal ways. Add to that the hypnotic power that comes over us when our love of country—born from the reality of where God has providentially rooted us—is combined with our love of sporting competition.

There is a tendency in contemporary culture to consider ours the most sports-obsessed society in human history. Though our culture is clearly saturated with a passion for sports, the obsession with sports was even more pervasive in antiquity. The first ancient Olympic games can be traced back to 776 B.C. and took place on the ancient plains of Olympia, which is on the western part of the Peloponnese. Along with the Olympics, other Greek crown competitions were held at Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. The competitions were athletic-religious festivals, and the athletes were viewed as demi-gods. The Olympic games continued for nearly 12 centuries before they were banned by Emperor Theodosius in A.D. 393 for being pagan cults. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.  

The Olympics has a way of drawing us into competitions we wouldn't otherwise enjoy. Personally, my deepest sporting passions are baseball, tennis and football. I have hardly ever chosen to watch hockey or gymnastics. Nevertheless, my most exciting Olympic memories took place in these sports. As a 12-year-old boy, I watched the 1980 USA hockey team accomplish what is now referred to as “the miracle on ice” by defeating the dominant Russian hockey team in the height of the Cold War. I can vividly remember leaping up and down and embracing everyone in the room.

In 1996, Kerri Strug came to the vault with Olympic gold on the line for the U.S.A. gymnastic team. On her first vault she tore two ligaments in one of her ankles, and it seemed as if the gold was lost to the Russian team. Strugs vaulted a second time, in intense pain, and somehow ran down the 75-foot runway, flew through the air and stuck the landing with only one good leg. A 4-foot-9 female gymnast is one of the best example of fearlessness, toughness and gutsy heart that I have ever witnessed in sports.

Few of the athletes who compete in the Olympics will financially profit from their grueling sacrifice to represent their country, though. Most have other jobs that allow them to pay the bills while they pursue their Olympic dream. Years of preparation and discipline all flow into a few days of competition that is both glorious and cruel. For those who triumph, I imagine few things compare with victory on behalf of their country. Consequently, performing poorly carries a burden greater than a mere individual loss. But, cruelest of all, to me, is the athlete who gets injured prior to or during Olympic competition. The physical pain cannot compare to the agony of a deferred Olympic dream, or as is true in most cases, the end of the dream.

With the excitement of the 2016 Olympic games upon us, here are four ideas about how to watch the competition to the glory of God:

1. Look for truth, beauty and goodness as God’s image bearers compete

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

I will be unapologetically rooting for America to win every event in the 2016 Olympic games. Nevertheless, watching as a Christian means that I enjoy and delight in God as I witness remarkable feats by his image bearers of all nations. In fact, some of the best things about Olympic coverage are the remarkable human interest segments on athletes from around the world. Watch and listen with a sense of awe. Be reminded that every person’s greatest need is Jesus. Pray for the athletes you learn about.

2. Learn about focus and perseverance in the face of struggle

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2a).

The author of Hebrews compares the Christian faith to a struggle (agōn, from which we get our word “agony,” is translated here as “the race”). We are like a runner competing in the Olympics— agonizing and possessing a fixation on the finish line. In our race, Christ ran and finished before us. Yet he is above the race; he governs the race of faith and is the one in whose honor the race is held. Furthermore, Jesus starts each runner on his course and provides the means for a successful race. He also demonstrated how the race was won—Christ himself endured his struggle (agōn) to win the place of honor in triumph at the right hand of God. Allow the focus and perseverance of the Olympic athletes to draw your mind back to this, encouraging you to persevere in the faith with single-minded, Christ-centered focus in your spiritual struggles.

3. Be challenged toward personal discipline and purpose

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

The two analogies in this passage are from Olympic-type games: a race and a boxing match. They both underscore the reality of Christian struggle and the need for discipline. Paul asserts that we should run to win, but to do so requires self-control. He also argues that we should be as merciless to our fleshly appetites as a boxer is to his opponent. The Christian faith demands focused self-control and an excellence that was modeled by athletes in the Corinthians’ day and age. May our modern athletes remind us of the same thing during this Olympic competition.

4. Let the nations represented cause you to think about our gospel mission

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10).

Few things represent unified humanity in the midst of ethnic diversity as well as the Olympic games. Some who have little day-to-day interest in athletics will still watch the majestic opening ceremonies as all the athletes gather with great pomp. It is a marvelous display. Christians know this is a picture of something greater. They know that God is at work through Jesus saving a people from every tribe, tongue and ethnic group, creating a new humanity whose chief characteristic is union with Christ. As you enjoy the games, pray for the gospel to spread among all the nations represented.

I wonder what memorable moments this year’s Olympics will sear into our hearts and minds? Let your love of country and enjoyment of sports be a catalyst to spur you on to greater love for God in Christ. Let the games begin!

For further reading:

Ancient Greek Athletics by Stephen G. Miller

The Ancient Olympics by Nigel Spivey

The Ancient Olympic Games by Judith Swaddling

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24