You’ve likely never heard of Raymond Poulidor. His second-place finishes in the 1964, 1965 and 1974 runnings of the Tour de France placed him, at three separate occasions, a single position from cycling immortality. Chances are, you’re also unfamiliar with Shirley Babashoff, who finished second at six separate occasions between the 1972 and 1972 Olympic games. The distance between first-place glory and second-place status goes by the name “insufficiency.”
In the world of sports, it’s actually as simple as this: be enough to etch your name into the immortality of athletic renown or else play second fiddle to the individual who was. It’s why you train, why you shovel salads past a frowning face, why you aim to wake earlier and train longer and work harder and run faster than your opponents, so that in the heat of competition, your good is better than their best, so that their good isn’t good enough. The scoreboard and the stopwatch, for as much as they differ in essence, are forever intrinsically linked in their shared contract: play no favorites.
How fortunate we are to worship a God whose understanding of religion bears little semblance to modern scoring systems. Because just like Desiree Davila’s two-seconds-too-slow finish in the 2011 Boston Marathon, the Bible remains characterized by those individuals who existed below “good enough.” Cain killed Abel. Lot’s wife looked back. The Israelites constructed the idol they worshipped. The Pharisees allowed status to cripple authoritative capacity.
But unlike today’s generation of coaches, God’s game planned for our own inadequacies.
The difficulty, then, is not so much admitting to ourselves that our own flesh renders us incapable of victory without God; the difficulty lies in that it remains entirely harder to admit to our own frailties on the field of play.
Those who enjoy confessing their own weaknesses already prove few and far between. It would prove all but impossible to unearth anyone willing to admit to their own faults while simultaneously attempting to mask them on the field of play. Can you imagine the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, mid-play, throwing exasperated hands into the air and admitting on national television that his play calling is simply inferior to the opposition’s defense? The concept is seemingly absurd, and yet, the theological parallel remains undeniable.
Our hope for victory, for the realization of everlasting life, as it’s equated athletically to on-field victory, lies in the admission of our own faults. That’s the beauty of our divine coach: his understanding of the world, our field of play, is such that he can go so far as to wield our own faults as weapons for the faith.
The cross witnesses to the bridge between the incompetency of mankind and the transcendence of the salvific power of Jesus Christ. Welcome to a team constructed on the inadequacies of all of mankind, where the distance between victory and loss is only so wide as the distance between your last no and your next yes.