Olympic cheats — and others
Most athletes would say that the greatest prize in sport is an Olympic gold medal. Some are so anxious to win one that they resort to drugs to help them, and this has become a plague at recent Games.
It is getting worse and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens were described as the dirtiest games ever, with 24 doping violations uncovered. Prior to these Games, the last track and field gold-medallist to be stripped of his gold medal was Ben Johnson at Seoul, in 1988.
The organisers of the 2012 Games are taking this seriously. A sophisticated laboratory provided by Britain’s largest drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which will be packed with highly sensitive, rapid testing equipment and staffed around the clock with up to 100 scientists, stands ready and waiting.
Games organisers hope that their preparedness will deter cheats. ‘We have a state-of-the-art facility. We have the best detection systems going; we’re right up to date with the science; and if athletes know you’ve got good testing and good detection systems, it really has a deterrent effect’, said David Cowan.
Mr Cowan is head of the Drug Control Centre at King’s College, London, and the man who will oversee London 2012’s anti-doping regime. His staff, which he has expanded to include eight times more scientists than he would normally have, are aiming to conduct more than 5000 tests — roughly one for every two of the 10,000 or so athletes expected to take part.
Considering the spiritual lessons this whole issue raises, we know deep down that there will always be cheats and some will get away with it. But what is certain is that no one gets away with cheating on God. The Bible warns us that our sins will find us out.
Most of us protest our innocence passionately when accused of wrongdoing. Sometimes the protest is justified because we were wrongly accused, but at other times it is a smoke screen or refusal on our part to face up to the facts.
We may even succeed in convincing ourselves of our innocence, because we cannot cope with the shame of being guilty. Whatever the rights or wrongs, most of us are good at protesting our innocence.
Have you ever seen a rugby international on TV and watched the face of a front row forward when penalised for a clear violation of the rules? With wide eyed innocence he looks in amazement at the referee. His expression seems to say, ‘How could you possibly think I would do such a thing?’
Often we can fool other people by our protests of innocence, but no one fools God. We may even make a dramatic demonstration in support of our claims, like Pontius Pilate’s action when he washed his hands and declared: ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ (Matthew 27:24). But God knows the true state of the case.
Pilate may well have believed he was innocent, but God’s verdict was different and he held Pilate accountable (Acts 4:27).
The Jews had cause to hate Pilate, but in order to kill Jesus they needed Pilate to pronounce the death sentence. So they woke him up in the middle of the night and brought Jesus before him.
Pilate would certainly have heard about Jesus. Everyone in Jerusalem must have heard about the Galilean, but now Jesus was there in front of him and he had to make a decision. Pilate was no fool and he immediately realised that Jesus was on a trumped-up charge. He said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man’ (Luke 23:4). He wanted to release him, but did not do so.
Pilate was under pressure. Self-interest, coupled with his weak moral character, caused him to look for a convenient way out. To pronounce the verdict the Jews wanted would clearly be a miscarriage of justice. Pilate knew what the right thing to do was, but he wanted someone else to take the decision.
So the choice of Barabbas or Christ was put before the crowd. At that point, with the priests and elders urging them on, they would have chosen the devil himself rather than Christ. But Pilate was satisfied. As he saw things, it was now not his responsibility, but that of the Jews.
When Pilate washed his hands to declare his innocence, he was trying to impress, not God but the Jewish crowd, and he chose a Jewish ritual in order to do so (Deuteronomy 21:6-7).
The biblical phrase ‘to wash one’s hands of something’, that has become part of the English language, means today exactly what it did for Pilate. He was having nothing more to do with the fate of Jesus and declaring that, whatever happened afterwards, it was not his responsibility.
The action went down well with the crowd and they were quite willing to accept responsibility: ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’ (Matthew 27:25). God was not so easily appeased and in his eyes Pilate was as guilty as the crowd.
Sin cannot be atoned for by religious ritual or pleas of innocence, yet we all try it. And even if our consciences are satisfied by the thought that we tried our best, God is not satisfied with this. We can silence our consciences, but we cannot fool God.
It is not difficult to see how wrong Pilate was in denying responsibility for the death of Jesus. True, he saw he was getting nowhere with the trial, but that was because he refused to exercise the authority he had as Roman governor.
He had control of the soldiers and one word from him would have released the prisoner and sent the crowd away to their homes. But he would not use the power he had.
Washing his hands did not remove the guilt. C. H. Spurgeon once said, ‘Pilate, you need something stronger than water to wash the blood of that just person off your hands. You cannot rid yourself of responsibility by that farce. He who has power to prevent a wrong is guilty of the act if he permits others to do it, even though he does not actually commit it himself’.
We can too easily go down the same road. It is possible to acknowledge the goodness of Jesus, to say he was a great man, and yet deny all he said about being the incarnate God.
A man says, ‘I think very highly of Jesus’, and yet at the same time ignores the fact that Jesus said we cannot be Christians unless we are born again. We admire Jesus, but dismiss his absolute statements as nothing more than a matter of opinion. We say we respect Jesus, but wash our hands of all his essential teaching on the way of salvation.
Clearly Pilate wanted to be innocent of the death of Jesus, but wanting is as useless as washing. He could have pleaded that the cross was all part of God’s plan and that he was merely an instrument in making it possible. He could even have quoted Scripture to defend his position, but God is not fooled.
The fact is that God holds us all responsible for our own sin. Circumstances, temptation, bad company and a whole host of things affect us all. But they do not cancel out our responsibility. ‘Guilty’ is stamped on all our hearts and there is only one thing that can remove it.
Pilate made reference to ‘this man’s blood’, and the New Testament delights to tell us that salvation from sin and guilt is found only in the shed blood of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross.
‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
If we ignore what God says about the death of his Son, then it will not matter what else we do; it will all be as useless as washing our hands and pleading innocence.
‘Cheats seldom prosper’ is often true in the athletics world, and will one day be completely true in the spiritual world!