I should probably explain that I have found myself contemplating that old story quite often of late. I have been studying the life of David in my devotions to begin with, and then happened to chance in as my sister was finishing up, of all things, a cartoon retelling of the story. I stood for a moment to watch and found myself held until the end because of something that caught my eyes in the movie’s portrayal of Goliath.
I realized that I was used to thinking of Goliath as a sort of stupid giant, a brawny puppet of the Philistines used to threaten the Israelites. But as I watched, I saw him in an entirely different light and gained a keen sense of how formidable an enemy he was, spiritually as well as physically. He was unassailable in every aspect. Handsome, with a tanned and tawny strength, he had a hard energy clothed in the best armor, armed with carefully crafted weapons. He was intelligent and articulate, mocking the Israelites with eloquence, using his words as well as his strength to cow them and convince them of their frailty. Steeled by his own strength, keenly aware of the superiority of his country, his armor and his own self, he strode out onto the battlefield and dared God’s people to challenge him.
Into that reality strode David, the plucky shepherd boy, too young to feel the weight of the impossible, too full of the goodness he had seen in the wilderness with God to waste time on fear. He was absurdly unprepared, with his single strap of a leather sling and a few river smoothed stones. Not a scrap of armor or glint of weapon. He too was handsome, but it was a “ruddy” charm accompanied by “beautiful eyes”. In David, there was no steeliness of countenance, no mask of strength to conceal his heart and soul. He was not even disciplined enough to mask his excitement. All he had was the spirit of the living God, coursing in blood, brain and heart, not to be hidden, but simply to be declared with bright eyes and flushed face and an outrageous courage.
There they stood, giant and boy, and I felt as if I were seeing the story for the first time. I am so used to it that I think it had become trivialized in my mind, for quite suddenly, far beyond being the comfortable old favorite I considered it, I knew it to be a living picture of the power of man vs. the spirit of God. It wasn’t a matter of an clever shepherd boy outwitting a clumsy, fumbling bully. It was the strongest man alive armed with the best the world could offer in weapons, armor, training and strength, pitted against the foolhardy faith of a young boy.
And it was that picture that came to my mind last night as I watched Chariots of Fire. Once again, it was the story of an unlikely man with a crazy love for God, set up against the best training, provision and strength the world could offer. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that there is a double story line, one following the life Eric Liddell in his two passions; service of God and running, the other following that of Harry Abrahams, another runner in the olympics at which Eric competed. Harry, who, while certainly no Goliath, was yet the epitome of all that the world could offer. Driven, rich, disciplined, trained by a professional, perfect in technique and equipment, educated at Cambridge, aided by everything that money and discipline could buy him, he was the best to be found in his field. Opposite him stood Eric; humble son of missionary parents. Simple, committed to preaching the gospel, quite decidedly not rich, his training accomplished in large part by running through God’s green hills, his running technique rather flawed because of its passion. He was a man who loved God first and rather stumbled into competition, ultimately running not to gain honor for himself, but to feel the “pleasure” of his God and to prove His glory.
Eric Liddell and the shepherd boy David were both humble, both unarmed and unprepared according the the standards of the world. And yet, full of a vim and love that could not be concealed, bursting with a faith that was ridiculed by country and friends, they challenged the most powerful, the most prepared, the best that the world had to offer. And they won.
For it was the brave boy with the joy flushing his face and the faith brightening his eyes who brought down the fearsome giant. It was Eric, a man of integrity who refused to run on the Sabbath, who ultimately triumphed both in conviction and competition, running with head thrown back for the sheer gladness of running for his Creator. There was no reason, according to rational understanding, why either of those men should have won against the incredible odds they faced. No reason except for the spirit of God. The strongest forces on earth could not prevail over the bright-eyed, pulse-pounding glory of God’s spirit beating in the heart of his child.
And so it seems that God is never bound by the things we humans think he ought to be. Physical strength and worldly prowess, prestigious credentials and the best in material goods; he pays them little heed, choosing instead to use the most unlikely people simply because they love him. It is his spirit, whirling through our human hearts and earth-formed bodies that accomplishes the miracles, the victories, the feats of thought, will and emotion. From shepherd boy to runner to me sitting here at my computer in the twilight; it is his glory to fill our weakness and our frailty with the rushing strength of his spirit. And it is a glad spirit, an exuberant life that fills in the corners of our frailty and breaks out into our words and even onto our faces, proving to the world how beautiful a thing it is to love, and be loved by God.
It did my heart good last night, to see that story, to remember how it was that David and Eric triumphed. Because so often I feel frail compared to the strength of the world. I am not the strongest, or the brightest, I don’t come from a rich family (in money anyway) and I tend to walk a bit counter to popular culture and its measure of success. But one thing I do have; like David, like Eric, I have the pulsing spirit of God present in me.
And those stories teach me that it is enough.