I loved the movie Chariots of Fire when I was a little girl. I find that funny now, since I couldn’t have understood a lot of it. I’m not sure if it was the music, the mesmerizing footage of runners splashing along an English beach, the drama of the races, or the unassuming, everyday heroism of Eric Liddell that captivated me. I do remember dreaming once that Eric Liddell was my big brother—I must have been about seven or eight years old. I longed for a big brother at that age, and I suppose I thought this gentle Scot would make an ideal one.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve continued to love this movie. The Englishness (and Scottishness) of it, the spires of Cambridge, the gripping personal struggles of the two men whose journeys to the 1924 Olympics it follows…and yes, the pounding of feet in the surf to the rhythm of Vangelis’s score. Most of all, though, the true story of a man who risked losing the Olympic gold because of his convictions of faith. And how, as he sought to honor God, God honored him.
Eric Liddell remains one of my favorite Christian heroes. Though I don’t know how I would have responded in his situation of being asked to run on Sunday, his exact applications of Sabbath-keeping seem to matter less than the overall story of a man who, without judging others, was willing to give up much in order to obey what he believed God wanted him to do. This willingness to stand alone in a secular context must have stood him in good stead years later when, as a missionary in China like his parents before him, he faced death in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. There is something very human, real, and winsome about Eric Liddell, both as the actor plays him in the movie and as the man apparently was in real life. His willingness to laugh at himself, his good sportsmanship to other runners, and his deep faith in Jesus and desire to share His love all inspire me.
My favorite line in the movie, though, came to mind unexpectedly today. Early in the story, Eric takes his sister, Jenny, who fears his running is pulling him away from God’s work, for a walk in the hills above Edinburgh. He explains that while he believes God made him to make a difference in China, He also made him FAST.
“And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Today I suddenly wondered: is that where it comes from, that joy like no other which I sometimes know when writing a story—when my heart sings with the scene on the page, and I know I couldn’t have done it without Him? That must be what Eric Liddell knew, as he ran with his head thrown back and his arms waving the air—God rejoicing in His child, created in His image; not because He delights “in the legs of a man,” but rather “in those who fear Him,” who are using the talents and gifts He has given them for Him and His glory, resulting in both their joy.
When I write, I feel His pleasure.
When do you?