God is still teaching me lessons through Eric Liddell. He started back in early 1982, when a Christian friend asked me to attend the movie Chariots of Fire with him. I was not a Christian.
The first time I saw the film, I thought it was—okay. My Christian friend seemed somewhat more excited about it than I. But for some reason or another I felt pulled to go see it again. And again. And again. Six times, I believe—maybe more.
In my spiritually dead state, I remember thinking, “I need to start being a ‘good person’ like this character Eric Liddell in this movie. I think I need to start going to church.”
I had attended a church worship service perhaps a half-dozen times—about the same number of times I attended Chariots of Fire—in the previous decade.
The first church I joined did not, I now realize, preach the gospel. In fact, the minister had this habit of speeding up his speech during the infrequent once-a-sermon-or-so occasion that he quoted Scripture, and rushing right through the passage, before returning to the cadence and practical human logic with which he was obviously more comfortable. Whoo—good to have that pesky, meddling, probing, searching, non-man-centered text out of the way!
Yes, searching. That is what God was doing for me. I was not “seeking” him—nor do any of us—in the way of the avant-garde teaching of the preponderance of today’s Church. “The Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) Oh, I would have told you I was looking for something that was missing in my life. But I only, blessedly realized even that something was missing in my life as He drew and wooed me to Himself. Indeed, Christ was moving into my life, the life of a man who had received love and good moral training as he grew up, but chose along the way to depart for that far country which beckoned so temptingly with its earthly promises.
Eric Liddell, athlete and Scottish missionary, did not pursue financial and material ends for the sake of his own vanity. He did not defile women created in the image of God to satisfy his own pride and sensual impulses. He did not stand by and allow an unborn child he helped conceive years before meeting his wife to be destroyed for $300 worth of blood money. His earthly days were not so darkened.
And that is why it meant so much to me to revisit my old friend Eric Liddell recently on the big screen at a classic film festival. To have my precious seven-year-old daughter Katie see what is a true man’s man. A man so unlike those I, as a 25-year-old pagan, had seen in movies, in books, on TV, in real life.
A man who would not play the sports he loved—nor do anything else that did regard the worship, contemplation, or enjoyment in some way of God—on Sunday, as we should not do. A pure, chaste, content man who devoted his entire life to the worship of God and the glorifying of the Lamb.
A man who--when faced with breaking the Sabbath in order to attain the dream of an Olympic Gold Medal, for God’s glory, for which he had trained relentlessly for years—told the leaders of his nation, including his future king, that he would not compromise the word of God as he saw it, no matter what it cost him.
(God, for His own purposes, then surprised everyone, including Liddell, and provided a different, non-Sabbath Day event for him to run, in which he won the gold medal.)
And a man, as the movie only alluded to, who went back to China to proclaim the gospel. That gospel compelled him to evangelize behind the lines of the invading Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s. It caused him to send his beloved wife and three daughters to safety in Canada while he continued to minister in occupied China. It was with him as he led those imprisoned with him for their Christian faith by that barbarous Japanese regime which made such names as Bataan, Nanking, and Manila synonymous with murder and massacre.
That saving gospel was with him even to the end, when he died in the prison camp a martyr for Christ, exhausted and sick with a brain tumor—only a few months before history’s most horrific war ended.
Ah, out of the mouths of babes. When I asked little Katie what was her favorite part of Chariots of Fire, she said there were two. One was the scene where the legendary 1924 British Olympic team crosses the English Channel in a big, beautiful ship.
And the other was where “Eric was brave in that meeting with those men.”
That meeting where he said no to his own most precious earthly dreams.
“He was a full Christian, wasn’t he, Daddy, not a part Christian?”
“Yes, sweetie, he was.”
“We’re full Christians too, aren’t we, Daddy?”
Eric Liddell, soldier of Christ, dead these 50-plus years, must be smiling in heaven.