Mr. Liddell and the Sabbath


From the time I was a little girl, I heard and read about Eric Liddell. A missionary, Olympian, and hero to many believers. This man refused to race in the 1924 Olympics in one of his best events because it required him to run on a Sunday. When I was young, teachers, pastors, and countless other adults pointed to Eric Liddell as an example of a man who was willing to give up everything to honor God.

Today, easily more than 10 years since I first heard Liddell’s story, my year-and-a-half contemplation about the Sabbath collided with the memory of a childhood hero. Here at college, I refrain from doing homework on Sundays. I choose to accept the gift of a day of rest that God has offered us. I may not feel completely rested by Monday morning, but I feel much better than if I spent the day stressing about tests and papers. Unfortunately, I wrestle with the concern that I will offend someone by coming off as a Pharisee who demands that everyone follow the Law precisely yet who refuses to love the people around them, thus missing the spirit of the Law. So I try to keep my thoughts on the Sabbath private.

But today I was struck by Mr. Liddell’s story. Why do we tell our children that particular story from the 1924 Olympics? Why does the name Liddell still bring to mind two things–China and the Sabbath?

Since I began resting on the Sabbath, I’ve heard lots of people say something like, “Well, good for you. I wish I had time for that.” Many of these I suspect would also list Liddell as a hero. Many have probably heard his Olympic story. Why then, do they esteem Mr. Liddell so highly if the Sabbath is not truly important? If a man stands for something unnecessary, we do not admire him. We pity him. It is when a man stands against the world for something that matters that we admire him.

Could it be that we repeat Mr. Liddell’s story because what he did matters?


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