Justin Gatlin should have been banned for life.
It is not right that Gatlin won the gold medal.
Gatlin should have shown more humility.
Gatlin is a doping cheat.
All these statements are true. And the boos that were heard ringing out in the London Olympic stadium reflect the sense of unease, and disappointment felt when Justin Gatlin won the 100 meters on Saturday night. Usain Bolt is a sporting hero, showing the world what it looks like to not only win fairly, but to win well. More than that, Bolt has been a great ambassador for the sport, inspiring and encouraging people from all walks of life. So with Bolt’s final race everyone wanted to see the right result, the result that would cap a monumental career, and signal to the watching world that the good guy does win, that cheaters do not prosper, and that a sporting hero would prove to us once again that he is the best of the best.
But he lost. Indeed, he came third.
Gatlin won. Coleman second. The disappointment was palpable.
The boos rang out.
And what a great lesson this teaches us about Grace.
You see, in the midst of the overwhelming boos and silence, once voice would have cheered in enthusiasm and love and celebration; God’s.
In the midst of a crowd jeering and booing, the voice of God cheers and says “well done!”
Throughout the Gospels Jesus is never part of the crowd, but stays outside of it, knowing full well what crowds can be like; one minute they cheer, the next they jeer, and then they crucify.
You will not find the voice of God in the midst of a booing, baying, and jeering crowd. Rather, you will hear God speaking celebration, joy and delight over your life.
God cheers for Justin Gatlin. Why? Because God cheers for everyone. God’s desire is to see all people finish the race, to encounter redemptive healing (in case you didn’t realise, I’ve moved into analogy now…), and know that the mistakes of yesterday do not have to be that which defines your today.
Grace is unbound from our human desires of what is fair, or who is deserving. Grace is beyond our scales of justice, or karma calling. Grace is grace. Total. Lavished. Beyond all words and conceptions.
Grace means that everyone finishes the race! Those like Bolt who we think deserve it, and who we hold up and celebrate as heroes. And those like Gatlin who we boo and hold up as the villain.
Here’s the thing that irritates and brings genuine anger from the religious spirits; grace means that the ‘Gatlin’ figure wins the race, the religious are shocked, they boo, they ask for justice, and God walks over and places a gold medal round ‘Gatlin’s’ neck. Here’s the thing too, he also places a gold around the neck of the ‘Bolt’ figure. Indeed, everyone gets a gold!
Jesus told a similar story about workers. Those that worked all day in the blazing sun get paid at the end of the day the same as the lazy, outcast, unemployable, drunken scum who only worked for an hour at the end of the day. The hard workers moan at the boss, telling him he’s unfair. Maybe he is. But that’s grace for you. This is what God is like. How do we know this?
Because Jesus showed us.
The Cross reveals a God who speaks forgiveness, over, and over, and over. The Cross reveals a God who speaks peace, over, and over, and over. The Cross reveals a God who does not retaliate, or seek karma justice, but who invites us into reconciliation, and hope, love, and a healing of all relationships; with God, with one another, with the created world, and with ourselves.
God is cheering you on to becoming; becoming ever more the person you are created for. Sin dismantles and destroy, mars and mocks us, damaging who we are and the people we are in relationship with. God cheers us on away from our desire for destruction, towards the finish line of healing and hope. Some may well boo you and your journey towards redemption. Indeed, you may well fall backwards and mess up again and again, but God will always be your greatest supporter and encourager, beckoning you on into a better reality.
I’m pretty sure that’s why God would have cheered for Justin Gatlin.