Thursday, 24 January 2013
It's being called The Harbaugh Bowl -- two brothers, both head coaches, facing off against one another in the Superbowl. How's that for a story? And it's capping off what has undoubtedly become one of the wildest months in sports history. The upcoming Superbowl is a welcome distraction from other headlines. Is it even possible to mention the names Manti Te'o or Lance Armstrong without receiving eye-rolls?
Lance Armstrong was once considered one of the biggest inspirational stories of all-time. He was relatively unknown in the cycling world until winning a battle with testicular cancer at the age of 25. In 1999, two years after being declared cancer-free, he won his first Tour de France, the Superbowl of cycling. By 2005, he'd won his seventh consecutive tour and was being called one of the greatest athletes ever in any sport.
In 1997, he started the Lance Armstrong Foundation which helps people with cancer. Their yellow "Livestrong" bracelets alone have helped raise over $325 million for the organization. Less than two years later, he started facing allegations of doping with banned substances. He passed hundreds of drug tests and referred to himself as the most tested athlete in the world, all while maintaining his innocence.
Multiple articles, books, and investigations said the opposite -- that Armstrong was a doper and a cheater. He sued many of his critics, taking them for millions. All for a lie. He'd been lying the whole time. Earlier this month, Armstrong came out to Oprah that he was a doper. He cheated. Every Tour de France title had been rightly stripped -- he'd not won a single one of them legitimately. And now he's saying, "I'm sorry."
Award-winning columnist and long-time defender of Armstrong, Rick Reilly, said that it was difficult to believe Armstrong was genuinely sorry. Bonnie D. Ford pointed out that by force of a lifetime habit, he was still shaping his own narrative. Tim Keown wrote that it may not be possible for him to be truly contrite. Even when he was apologizing for lying, he was still lying, and had the nerve to suggest he deserved another shot.
Everything that Armstrong had done to help people struggling with cancer was all for nothing. He hurt so many people -- and hurt them bad -- for the sake of a lie. There's no way that he can fall back on, "Well at least I was helping people." He was using them. Virtually nothing he's said is salvageable. Once an inspirational hero, Armstrong's legacy has been destroyed.
In his 2000 memoir, It's Not About the Bike, Armstrong wrote, "At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hope I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I'd been baptized." The scary thing for Armstrong is that unless he repents and finds the only true forgiveness in Christ, that's exactly the way he's going to be judged -- on whether or not he has lived a true life. (Revelation 22:12)
Even by our own standards, we're not worthy. I have to wonder if it's even possible for a person to set up their own rules by which they think they should be judged and not be shown a hypocrite. Salvation cannot possibly come from ourselves -- it can only come from God. And that's good news. Since there's no work that we can do to attain salvation, only trusting in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ can pay the debt for our sins and bring us back into right-standing with God.
Lance Armstrong may never earn the trust of the public again. Even if by some chance he's able to return to competition, will anyone be able to look at him as anything but a cheat and a liar? Regardless of what happens, this will remain one of the biggest headlines ever. But if he wants forgiveness and the chance to offer people hope once again, this time a true and unfailing hope, faith in Christ is the only place he'll find it.
What can we learn from the example of Lance Armstrong? When has a lie resurfaced in your life that changed the way you were perceived by the people around you? How does lying impact the life of the believer, and what can repentance do to change that?