I spent part of the last two evenings watching the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah. I don’t understand enough about the politics of the cycling world, multi-million dollar endorsement contracts, or the statute of limitation laws applicable to his case to parse whether his words were crafted for his personal advantage in any of those arenas.
What struck me was the impact of his confession on the thousands of people who drew hope from his story. In a previous post, I’ve commented on the medically-verifiable healing power of hope (even non-spiritual hope). What I fear is that there will be a spike in recurrence and/or death among those who were battling cancer by drawing strength or inspiration from Lance Armstrong’s story; which seems unnecessarily sad to me.
Lance cheated to win the Tour de France seven times. But he beat cancer. Regardless of whether he took performing enhancing drugs or not, he reached a level of health that he could ride a bike for 2,200 miles over mountains in 23 days. Whether he was the fastest man on a bike for those seven years doesn’t change the key element that gives hope to those wondering if they can beat cancer.
I’m by no means defending Lance’s character or legacy. I’m not affirming or denying the genuineness of his repentance. I’m simply trying to draw attention away from the sports star and commercial celebrity and place the spotlight on people who wore a yellow wrist band to draw strength rather than make a fashion/social statement.
Could we say that these people should have put their hope in Jesus instead of Lance Armstrong? Sure. But that would seem to confuse every story of inspiration as being an instance of idolatry. Every moment of human failing reminds us that only God is permanent enough to sustain our hope. But it seems (at least to me) a reach to say that every time we’re disappointed we have done something wrong with our faith.
So what should those who are fighting cancer think as they process these revelations about one of the heroes in the fight of their life? They should be careful not to confuse a sport’s legacy with a health marvel.
My encouragement to you is, “Fight and fight hard. Live each day with the expectation that you will be able to bike over a mountain. If Lance Armstrong’s story inspires you, don’t miss the mountain for the yellow jerseys. But realize that Lance, at his best, was only an example; not your source of hope.”
If you are disgusted by Lance Armstrong, my encouragement to you is, “There is more sure hope for Lance’s sin than there was for his cancer. Whether we share his cancer disease, we share his sin nature. We have doubled down on our sin and gotten sin-stupid / morally-blind in the pursuit of dreams. We have hurt those we loved and others we didn’t know.” I AM LANCE ARMSTRONG on my best day apart from Christ.
If I were battling cancer, his example would inspire me (even now, knowing what we know). As I battle with sin, his story humbles me and causes me to treasure Christ even more.
Here are a few other thoughts from watching his interview with Oprah:
- It was interesting to watch a world-class athlete who had overcome stage three cancer try to find a way to harness his competitive nature (in a healthy way) for this moral / relational struggle. It felt out of place as I watched, but I could see him drawing on what he had replied upon since growing up in the home of a single mother.
- With only a few exceptions he seemed to consistently articulate (I can only assume to understand) that he was at the beginning of journey and in the process of learning what repentance, humility, and empathy would look / feel like.
- I appreciated his honesty that he wanted to compete again and that he did not hide this even though it would be an unpopular statement. A question could be raised whether competition is like a drug for him, but I thought it was good that he was genuine – all change begins with honesty.
- I think we need to long for his salvation and redemption from sin as earnestly as we cheered for his victory in a bike race after cancer. I remember watching him compete in his first Tour de France after cancer and yearning for him to win (having never watched the sport before). May my soul equally yearn to see Lance and others overcome the curse of sin by the grace of God and advance the gospel like Lance advanced the cause of cancer research.