During the recent Summer Olympics, one of the most enduring images was that of Gabby Douglas’s infectious smile after stunning the gymnastics world by capturing gold in the all-around competition. Later she joined her teammates atop the podium after winning the team competition. She became an instant media darling and won countless thousands of fans.
But her new fan base further expanded when, just after her all-around victory, she said:
“I give all the glory to God. It's kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to Him and the blessings fall down on me."
Like other followers of Christ, I was excited to hear that. These days more often than not, if God is acknowledged at all, it’s to place blame – but rarely to give credit. So it’s good hearing an exceptional young athlete give credit where it belongs.
But as much as I enjoy God being honored, there’s a dilemma with celebrity praise. It’s like placing a chip on your shoulder. Someone’s just waiting to knock it off. Think about Tim Tebow, now battling for playing time at quarterback with the New York Jets. He’s known for his outspoken faith, but you can bet many detractors are waiting – even hoping – for him to slip up.
I hope that won’t be the case for either Gabby or Tebow. I hope their expressions of faith stand the test of time. But over the years I’ve heard athletes give honor to God in many ways, only to bring dishonor to Him by drug and alcohol abuse, personal issues, generally boorish behavior. “I told you so,” cynics are quick to pronounce. “Another hypocritical Jesus freak. All talk and no action to back it up.”
I interviewed a prominent racecar driver years ago for a magazine, asking about his outspoken faith. He stated that ahead of his racing career, his faith and his wife came first. Within two years he was divorced, and adoring fans cringed listening to expletive-laced conversations with his pit crew during races. It’s seems a long time since that driver spoke publicly about God.
There was a rising pro tennis star, after one of his first major triumphs, telling about beginning every day by reading his Bible. Years later, after he had endured a sad series of life setbacks and misadventures, no one was asking him about God.
Taking a stand for God – particularly when you’re in the spotlight and the glare of 24/7 media scrutiny – can be precarious. Skeptics love to knock people off spiritual pedestals. And fame and fortune can put faith to the test.
That’s why the Bible offers the warning, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). It’s good advice for all that claim to follow Jesus, but especially for those in the public eye.