It is difficult to have been Canadian during the 21st Winter Olympics in Vancouver these past 17 days and not have been swept into the strong current of emotion that seems to have gripped our nation. It all came to grand climax today in an intense battle for the gold in men’s hockey between Canada and the USA. The game itself was a nail-biter that extended into overtime because the USA tied it in the last seconds of the game. A whole nation waited breathlessly and quietly until Sidney Crosby finally managed to find a small opening to put the puck into the net for Canada. It’s hard to describe the feeling when a whole nation is united for one small hour or two in hoping for an important victory in sport. It’s difficult to imagine a time in recent history when the Canadian nation has had a stronger sense of united patriotism than during these Winter Games. No doubt the new sense of nationalism generated by this event and these games will have significant political and economic implications.
Though Canadians are usually characterized by mild manners and quiet reservation something has happened during this time that has ignited an unusual expression of pride and passion among us. Canadians have held an enviable reputation around the world for being courageous but conciliating peace-makers. They are known for their endurance, perseverance, and strength of character. They have also been known for their tendency to be somewhat diminutive and retiring in the face of serious challenge or conflict. But today, and in this season, that sense of humility may have taken a turn for bolder expressions of national pride. We shall see.
What should the Christian response be to this kind of sudden national hubris? What are the implications of all of this nationalistic spirit for the church and the work of God’s kingdom in Canada and the world? No doubt, the answer is complex but certainly not irrelevant. The Scriptures themselves refer to “the games” as a metaphor of what it means to be running the Christian race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Timothy 2:5, and Hebrews 12:1, 2). There is a relationship between what it means to discipline oneself for an earthly crown and the discipline involved in living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. These Olympic Games, just observed, should serve to inspire believers to live out their faith with a strong sense of commitment, discipline, and perseverance.
Just as these Olympics have served to give Canadians especially a new sense of national identity and pride, they might also serve to help believers in this land be inspired to serve Christ and his cause with greater vigour and commitment. Close observers of the Olympics will realize that they have a religious, almost cultic element to them evident in the spiritual references and overtones in their ceremonies. Christians are right to identify themselves with their national culture but they should be careful not to confuse that identity with their primary allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. As Canadians we might properly feel good about our nation, but as Christian Canadians we should humbly thank God more than ever for the privilege He has given us to live here and to look for new ways through these blessings to do God’s kingdom work here and around the world.