With only 200m left to climb, the attempt to be the first men to summit Everest was looking certain. The experienced British mountaineers, George Mallory and his friend Andrew Irvine, came within touching distance of the great peak in the summer of 1924. An account of their assault up the mountain reveals that cloud enveloped them as they were last seen climbing. Mallory’s body was discovered on the mountain 75 years later in 1999 whilst Irvine’s has never been recovered. There is still speculation on whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before falling to their death. We will never know the real story. We can never know for certain what happened on the North ridge of Everest on 9th June 1924.
Over the years I’ve often been drawn back to this story but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure that grips me, a taste of the unknown, trying to imagine what really took place on that fateful day? Maybe it’s the thrill of the quest - similar to the buzz we feel in sport, to push our bodies to their limits and test them to see what they can do. Most likely, it’s the melancholic realisation that precious life was lost amidst the ambition of human achievement. And that always stirs up questions for me.
This small piece of history has always acted as a stark reminder that man is not God, that I am not king, that human pursuit of greatness can be in one moment dashed and that some things remain uncertain but with God He works all things according to His purpose.
For some of us, these are painful times as we experience the sadness, pain and uncertainty that Covid-19 and the lockdown scenario has thrown at us. For many, we’re not living in the dramatic moment on the mountain ridge during this period of lockdown, but we’ve had to come to terms with the uncertainty and appreciate the mental battle both within ourselves and others around us.
We miss the things we so often took for granted. The journey to training. The friendly greeting in the changing room. The banter around the open goal missed in the last game. The feeling of pushing our bodies in the moment and afterwards the deep satisfaction of sitting down to a big bowl of our favourite pasta with a cold glass of squash. We miss the simple, the beautiful and the mundane.
With the uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought us sports people it’s inevitable that we’ve asked questions of our life, our faith and of our God.
Romans 8:28 gives answers to our big questions - sure, straight forward and certain answers.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Our tendency, all the way since Genesis 1, has always been to question God and more specifically question His word. “Did God really say?” are the first words uttered by Satan in the Garden of Eden to Eve; sowing the seeds of doubt on the trustworthy nature of His word.
Do you know what God is always doing? He is always working! God is not distant. He is not aloof from His creation. He doesn’t go to sleep. Even in these times and perhaps more so we need to hear that God is at work. ‘And we know that in all things God works…’ He is always working, He cannot ever be passive, He is always there!
As sports people I don’t think we’re ever too far away from asking this question.
Why am I injured God? Why are you letting us scrap around in this relegation battle? Why won’t you get me a starting place in the team? Why can’t we play sport at this time? If we don’t shout it at God in a moment of doubt - in the car, in the shower, on the cool down - we’ve all thought it.
Paul speaks right into the crisis moment for Christians in Rome. He is describing what life as new people, transformed by the work of the spirit, looks like in the midst of suffering, persecution and weakness (Romans 8:18-27).
In answer to our circumstantial questions Paul says ‘…in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.
That’s not just in some things and not just in the ‘good’ that I experience but in ALL THINGS God is working for the good of those who love him.
There’s often a distinction between what I think is good and what God says is good for me. I differ in my thinking from God because my definition of ‘my good’ is not always God’s definition of ‘my good’. Whatever my outlook on injury, losing, selection, form, whether good, bad or indifferent, God is ALWAYS working for my good.
Paul states what God’s definition of my good is later in verse 29 ‘…to be conformed to the likeness of His son Jesus’. So that means God is using every situation to make me more like Jesus (kind, patient, dependant on his father, loving etc) The outcome of this particular situation is not ‘the good’ that God is talking about, it’s the ongoing transformation of me as His child in every given moment.
Like the wrestling icon of the 80’s ‘Big Daddy’ used to chant “Easy, Easy, Easy’’ Paul would answer it in a similar vein - “you have been called according to his purpose”. If you’re a Christian sports person, you can know today that he has called you to be his child and he is the one who has made it possible. You are his. He is working for your good, not sometimes, not just in the good times but in all times.
Spurgeon, the 18th century preacher said on this matter:
‘God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. When we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart’
So like the childhood story of Mallory and Irvine, that drew me in because of heroism, adventure and mystery, I’m drawn back again to this verse. It shows me that God is the central player, He is the consistent, He is working out his plans at this time, even if I cannot understand all that he is doing. I can be certain that in these uncertain times he is for me and for my good…completely!
Lancs oversees the regional work in the UK and Sports Plus. He runs with Alchester RC and is one of the leaders at Town Church, Bicester.
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