Fallen idols

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I’ve got a photo of him on my computer desktop—the elite athlete at full stretch as he bounds down the track on carbon fibre springs. They called him the Blade Runner, “the fastest man on no legs”; Oscar Pistorius, the first amputee to compete in an Olympic track event. And although he didn’t take away a medal for South Africa at the London 2012 Games, he was a serious contender and carried his nation’s flag at the closing ceremony.

Oscar’s story is one of courage against the odds. Both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11; his mother dead when he was 15. Nevertheless he has achieved athletic feats that few able-bodied people can dream of. Raised in a Christian family and with 1 Corinthians 9:26 tattooed on his back, he was public about his faith and its key part in his success.

A closer examination of any of these clay idols ends in disappointment.

And then it came like a punch in the guts. Oscar Pistorius charged with shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Four times through a bathroom door. It occurred on a night after neighbours reportedly heard the sound of arguing. In the scramble to explain how it could have happened, the tabloids revealed a high-octane playboy lifestyle involving multiple women. Accusations were made of a jealous, violent temper and performance-enhancing drugs. Indeed the media have been dining out on every scrap of gossip and speculation they can find on Pistorius, reliable or otherwise.

Oscar Pistorius’s image is still on my desktop. It needs to stay there at least until the conflicting emotions it triggers can be sorted into a semblance of order. There are lessons to be learned here, starting with how easy it is to join the feeding frenzy when a talented person’s flaws are revealed. Somehow it seems we’re less forgiving when we’re let down by someone we’ve admired. 

I’ve searched for heroes for many years, looking for examples of godly lives in history and contemporary society. And although I’ve assembled an impressive collection of biographies, I’m never quite satisfied. The brilliant thought-leaders rarely put their formulas into action. The humanitarians betray their noble ideals in favour of pragmatic solutions. Parents lie, teachers exploit, entrepreneurs cut corners, evangelists sneer. A closer examination of any of these clay idols ends in disappointment. 

With one exception. Jesus always challenges me to aim higher; to be more radical and yet more balanced. To speak out more strongly and yet with more compassion. To give without expecting recompense. To turn the other cheek. To love my enemies. Again and again my Dagons fall on their faces, cracked before His presence; humbled by His grace.

And I’m left with a pantheon of One.

Kent Kingston is assistant editor of RECORD.