“Nordic combined skiing” is so named because it combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing. The sport has been dominated in recent years by Norwegian athlete Jarl Magnus Riiber, considered by NBC analyst Johnny Spillane to be “the best Nordic combined skier ever.” As Riiber prepared to compete in this year’s Olympics, Spillane predicted, “If he has a good day, he’s pretty much unstoppable.”
He didn’t have a good day.
Riiber tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival at the Games, missing his first event and every training session. He cleared isolation on Monday in time to ski cross-country for ten kilometers on Tuesday. As he entered the first of four 2.5-kilometer loops on the course, he came to a fork. To the left was the cross-country circuit; to the right was the path to the finish line. He had not had a chance to practice on the track, so he had to guess and picked the lane on the right.
He chose poorly.
After skiing around fifty yards, he realized he was going the wrong way and turned around. It was too late, however—he’d frittered away his lead and finished in eighth place. “It’s a silly mistake,” Riiber said later, “and it’s not fun to show the world that I’m maybe wasting a gold medal on that.”
Let’s consider his mishap as a cultural parable.
What George Clooney thinks about heaven and hell
There are many reasons to believe that we’re skiing in the wrong direction these days, but unlike Jarl Magnus Riiber, it’s not too late to turn around.
Let’s begin by identifying the wrong lane. From surging inflation to rising sea levels to religious persecution to continuing tensions in Ukraine, it’s harder to find good news than bad news in the news.
Harvard history professor Tiya Miles writes for the New York Times: “Everyone around me seems to be talking about the end. The end of nearly a million American lives in the Covid pandemic; the end of American democracy; the end of a public bulwark against racism and blatant antisemitism; the end of the post-Cold War peace in Europe; the end of the stable climate; and the end of our children’s best futures, to name a few undeniable possibilities. A condition of apocalyptic anxiety has overtaken us, raising our collective blood pressure, and sending us deeper into a maelstrom of suspicion, conspiracy thinking, and pessimism.”
Filmmaker Woody Allen complained ironically, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” Actor George Clooney added, “I don’t believe in heaven and hell. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life—the only thing I know to exist—to be wasted.”
They and the multitudes who share their skepticism obviously do not believe that Jesus died and rose again, offering each of us eternal life through his grace and “abundant” life every day (John 10:10). They don’t agree that Christians can now “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) because we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
In short, they do not believe that Jesus is who he claims to be, and their unbelief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is a wrong path Christians must beware, for it is open to us as well.
A girl and boy I will never forget
Mark 6 tells us that when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, the people were skeptical and “took offense at him” (v. 3). As a result, “he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5–6).
God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27) with free will and a capacity for choice that he chooses to honor. He therefore will “stand at the door and knock,” waiting for us to open our hearts to him (Revelation 3:20). If we do not believe he is omnipotent, we are unlikely to seek his power for our problems. If we do not believe he is omniscient, we are unlikely to seek his guidance for our decisions. If we do not believe he is omnibenevolent, we are unlikely to trust that his will is best for us.
As a result, we will not experience his power, wisdom, or love. The less we experience of God, the less we believe in him, and the less we believe in him, the less we experience of him. Taking this wrong path inevitably leads us further down the wrong path.
By contrast, I have seen what happens when people take the right path, choosing to believe that Jesus is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. I have seen Cuban Christians who have no medicines turn to the Great Physician and then experience miraculous healings. I have seen Muslim-background believers facing enormous oppression turn to Jesus for strength and then stand courageously for their Lord.
I will always remember the teenage girl I met in East Malaysia decades ago. Her father told her that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again, so she brought her luggage to the church. And the young Christian I met in Singapore who faced abuse from his father every time he went to church but continued living at home because, as he explained, his father “needed to know about Jesus.”
“God does not give us overcoming life”
A relationship with God, like a relationship with anyone else, requires a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating. You cannot prove that a job is the right job until you take it. You examine the evidence, but then you must step beyond the evidence into a relationship. It is the same with being married, or having children, or even reading this article. All relationships require a step of faith that becomes self-validating once we take it.
Oswald Chambers was right: “God does not give us overcoming life; he gives us life as we overcome” (his emphasis). He illustrates: “Our Lord said to the man with the withered hand—’Stretch forth thy hand,’ and as soon as the man did so, his hand was healed, but he had to take the initiative. If we will do the overcoming, we shall find we are inspired of God because he gives life immediately.”
What “overcoming” path is God asking you to choose today?
NOTE: I’ve long appreciated Cynthia Yanof’s contagious joy in equipping Christian parents to do the hard but rewarding work of parenting in this day and age. So it was my recent privilege to be a guest on her podcast, Pardon the Mess. We talk about my new book and why it’s important to identify the preeminent lies of the day so we can have biblical answers that may bring light to those who desperately need the Lord. I hope you will listen to our interview today.