Eric Liddell, Olympic champion and missionary to China, was made famous by the movie Chariots of Fire (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1982). A central feature of the movie was Liddell’s conviction about the Sabbath which prohibited him from running on Sunday.
Over the summer, I read a new Liddell biography which focused on his post-Olympic missionary service in China. Liddell was eventually interred during World War II, in a prison camp run by the Japanese Army. The internees were allowed to organize schools and other activities for children and youth – to create some semblance of normalcy and focus their energies on productive activities.
Liddell assumed responsibility for the camp sports programs. Following his conviction, he locked up the equipment on Saturday night and left it there until Monday morning. After two years of captivity, a handful of older boys bored with the humdrum of camp life, broke into the shed and started a field hockey game. Without referees or supervision, it degenerated into a melee resulting in bruises and black eyes.
Liddell was faced with a dilemma – how to manage young men in confined quarters experiencing the horrors of wartime imprisonment. After two days of re-consideration, he modified his position. He organized Sunday afternoon games, even serving as referee, as a means to provide structure for the players and distraction from their circumstances.
Reading of his decision surprised me – given the stand he took prior to the Olympics. He changed his mind to serve what he perceived was the greater good. Liddell modeled holding convictions, serious reflection, and service to others in making this difficult choice. He recognized that changing circumstances – including horrific suffering – mandated reconsideration of his position.
Be careful where you draw your unmovable lines. Yes, every believer must stand for core convictions that define our faith. But there are many other issues – about which we may feel strongly – which call for flexibility. It is possible to change your mind without being frivolous or weak-willed. May God give us courage to stand resolutely where we must and the grace to accommodate a variety of positions on other issues. May God also give us the humility to change our minds when faced with new information or circumstances.
Photograph from Eric Liddell Centre http://www.ericliddell.org/about-us/eric-liddell/photographs/