Wednesday, January 18, 2017

For the Glory, by Duncan Hamilton

If you've seen the wonderful movie Chariots of Fire, you know about Eric Liddell, the Olympic sprinter from Scotland.  But if that's all you know about Liddell, you're missing the rest of the story.  In For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Jour from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr, Duncan Hamilton tells Liddell's full story.

The first third or so of For the Glory covers Liddell's early life, university days, and his running career.  Hamilton refers to the movie several times, pointing out the occasional differences between film and reality.  Hamilton does not minimize Liddell's sacrifice not to run the 100 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics, which he skipped because the trials were on a Sunday, but he does correct the record, which is a bit different from what is portrayed in Chariots of Fire.

Where For the Glory really earns attention is Hamilton's description of Liddell's life after the 1924 Olympics.  He raced for a bit after Paris, but by 1925 he was on his way back to China, the country of his birth, where his parents had been missionaries.  Liddell taught school, taught Sunday School, and preached.  In 1934 he married the daughter of Canadian missionaries.

Conditions for missionaries and other expatriates became more dicey and complicated after the Japanese occupation of China.  Liddell sent his family away to Canada while he made the heart-wrenching decision to stay in China.  Ultimately, the Japanese interned him and many other non-Chinese in a large camp, where he lived out his years.  He died there of a brain tumor shortly before the end of the war.

Hamilton emphasizes both Liddell's spiritual legacy and his legacy of service.  Liddell longed to know God and help others know him.  He wrote a book on spiritual disciplines that is still available today.  On prayer, he wrote that Christians should always have a designated time of prayer in the day. He was known in the internment camp to be up earlier than anyone each morning, spending time in prayer.  He wrote, "Anyone who, neglecting that fixed hour of prayer, [will] say he can pray at all times but will probably end in praying at no time."

Certainly one would be hard-pressed to question Liddell's commitment to service, given his choice to live and serve in China.  But during his time in the internment camp, that commitment became widely known.  All around the camp he was known as a tireless worker, a peace maker, an honorary uncle to the youth of the camp, one who truly led by his service.  When he passed away, the whole camp mourned for days.

Hamilton sums up Liddell's legacy like this: "Valorous lives like his--which must be calculated in terms of value rather than length--encourage us to make our own lives better somehow.  In his case that's because everything he did was selfless, each kind act bespoke for someone else's benefit."  Liddell saw his Olympic fame as a means by which God gave him opportunities to service.  His eyes were always on a higher prize; he knew that "the glory of gold was nothing in this world compared to the glory of God."

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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