The math equation is simple. To win an Olympic gold an athlete has one chance in one event, on one day, every four years. A once in a lifetime gamble to align the planets to win the greatest sporting prize: an Olympic gold.
Considering that the best athlete does not always win, is winning a gold medal more random chance? What are the factors that increase the chance of gold and is one of these God?
gods (small “g”)
In ancient times victory was seen as an act of the gods. The Greek god of victory, Nike, that would fly onto the battlefield and pronounce the good news of “Victory” on one side over the other.
In our positivistic culture, sport science is the new god. Sport scientists have wrestled for years about how to produce a gold medallist. Nutrition, stretching, immune system function, somatotyping, training periodization etc: all fine tuned with the aim of a peak performance. Yet within this complex equation of searching for gold, is there room for a spiritual dimension?
Few believe in Greek mythology or the goddess Nike. However, what part does the real Creator God have to do with an athlete winning gold? Should athletes be praying for an Olympic gold? Does God ordain, in His providence, victory for one athlete over another?
John chapter 5 talks about a pool in which apparently random movements of the Spirit stirred the waters allowing people with disabilities to climb in and be healed. The rare and random nature of the healing waters attracted people that would take their daily positions hoping for their chance for a new life.
Is God in control of everything?
For an Olympic athlete they position themselves ready for the opportunity if it occurs. They control the controllables, yet there is still a question of God’s providence in each situation. The Bible is clear that God has a plan.
This plan is of a God reaching out to all peoples offering them reconciliation as a gracious and free gift. This redemptive plan is seen in every page of the Bible. And even when things look hopeless within this plan, God shows He has control of all things.
This includes you
And each of our lives, including the athletes, continue to see this plan lived out in our circumstances. Acts chapter 2 explains that even Jesus’ arrest and death was part of this plan. Jesus “was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Even the apparent worst possible situation (death of the Messiah) was not only part of God’s plan but used to bring about blessings to all. The conclusion that any Bible reader will come away with is that God is in control, even when we cannot see His hands at work, He has a plan He is carrying out.
This is the same for an Olympic athlete. This is what we call providence. Providence means that God is in control. It means God supplies what is needed to achieve His plan. And every moment of every life fits into this plan. This means that in God’s providence He has a purpose for the result each athlete achieves.
The 16th Century Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27) explains this concept of providence saying it is so, “we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they can not so much as move.” Within this concept we find our gold medal.
For the Olympic athlete it explains that God works within the created order of sport science to bring the athlete to their potential. Yet there is more to that athlete than just a performance and within this realm God works to reveal Himself and His plan. This could be an opportunity to make them grow through victory or defeat. Or a way God uses the Olympics to have the athlete reflect on His love.
In my sport science and athletic background, I have often been puzzled why good performances did not occur when I thought they should. The preparation seemed solid, the athlete was ready, yet it did not produce gold on the day. While some might search the skies for a Nike god to appear, and others just throw their arms up in confusion saying, “inshallah” (it is just god’s will), this doctrine of providence provides a deep comfort that God not only is in control but has a purpose for us within His great redemptive plan.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover1.html