We Could Use A Liddell Perseverance

By Bob Hiller

My good buddy, Rev. Eric Eichinger, has written a wonderful book on Olympic runner and missionary Eric Liddell. I’m honored to have him contribute this piece on the Jagged Word. Check out his book here!~Bob

By Eric Eichinger —

Truth be told, occasionally I find myself not wanting to walk through my own house. I sometimes hide because I don’t always want to be seen by any of the other four family members with whom I live. To be seen means instantaneously being requested to perform some act of service that I must do—immediately. Empty the dishwasher, clean up the counter, sweep the floor, get the trash, wipe up the spill, clean up after the dog, find the missing shoe, fix the broken toy, bring food to a “hangry” soul, you feel me? None of these tiny asks of a Christian husband/father are deal breakers. They are merely the mundane acts of serving thy neighbor, which, frankly speaking, wreck the ecstasy of rare contentment I had previously been enjoying in peaceful thought, rest, or entertainment. I admit with whimpering that switching from “off mode” to “on” feels like… suffering.

In these pathetic moments of “perseverance” of Christian duty, I embarrassingly reflect on one of my heroes, Eric Liddell. On July 19, 1924, Eric Liddell was on top of the world. He had everything going for him: an Olympic gold medal in his pocket, the adoration of his nation, a college degree, and all the lucrative and romantic possibilities afforded with fame from his running success. The story of his legendary race―and the one he didn’t run―was told in the popular movie classic Chariots of Fire. Yet he sacrificially turned his back on all of it for mission work in the obscurity of China. He would in time know perseverant faith through suffering like few others…

What most of us don’t know is what became of Eric Liddell in the years after the credits rolled. As the storm clouds of World War II rolled in, Eric had already made decisions in his life that gave him the resilience to stand tall while others fell into despair. His strength of character led him to choose an uncertain future in China during World War II in order to continue helping the Chinese. He lived purposefully even as his world crumbled and he experienced the horror and deprivations of a Japanese internment camp.

As Eric Liddell’s life developed in the mission field, so did WWII. Ultimately, Liddell ended up in a Japanese internment camp in occupied China, separated from his wife and three children. He suffered incalculable misery apart from them in a crowded prison camp with meager food rations, poor sanitation, and inclement weather. He would have sacrificed about anything to walk through his own house in the presence of his loved ones and joyfully serve them.

It would be quite easy and understandable for anyone one of us to wallow selfishly in a situation like he and many others endured. Forget the annoyance of briefly losing our contentment, rest, or entertainment. This was attempting to squeeze out any drop of comfort to be found, perhaps even the questioning of one’s own faith in the severity of the conditions. Yet by faith in Christ, Liddell persevered and served his neighbors—much to their amazement and ours to this day. While the majority of prisoners were greedily getting their ends met, shirking responsibility, Eric Liddell was routinely seen executing trivial tasks for his fellow man. Cheerfully carrying water buckets to the bedridden, bringing a morsel of food to a starving individual, or aiding someone in some rudimentary fashion with a wink and a smile. How could he do that with such gusto and vim, in the despair of loneliness and suffering? What did he know that others didn’t?

Oddly, the world remembers Eric Liddell most for being legalistic with his faith. He held out, to the angst of much of Great Britain, by not running on a Sunday during his favored Olympic event, the 100m. Liddell fortunately and amazingly won the gold in a different and less-favored race, the 400m. Fascinatingly enough, and much later in life, he broke his stringent Sabbath observance in the prison camp. He didn’t play sports, but did agree to referee youth hockey games on Sundays. He did so for the good of the order keeping the deviant teens from perpetual fighting. Liddell had come to believe that the love of grace, not the love of law, wins the day.

A verse that gave insight and guidance to Eric was John 7:17, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Essentially, Eric came to know the joy that came from living in surrender to the will of Christ, obedience in His Word, and even in personal failure and sin, grace reigns. That path was always more appealing to Eric than shirking duty, basking in laziness, or—ahem—hiding in “off mode” when neighbors seek assistance.

Consequently, Eric Liddell lived his life as a God-controlled individual. He had learned that even in the seemingly lowest forms of vocation, Christ was working through him for the mercy and benefit of his neighbor. In that way, Eric could serve without the legalistic insufferable thought of service. And even in the moments of weakness and sin, grace abounds and reigns.

Only a faith in Christ—true God and Lord—could this be possible. For it is Christ Jesus who served us in every rudimentary and trivial way imaginable right up unto on the cross. He suffered. He persevered, and via His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He still serves us today. He brings us water, in which to be baptized, forgiven, and made clean. He delivers us a morsel of food to mercifully comfort with forgiveness and strength to preserver in the faith.

Eric’s story is a story of hope in the face of uncertainty, resilience in the face of unspeakable odds, and inspiring vision of what life means, even when the final hour comes. To discover more about Eric Liddell incredible story, check out The Final Race by Eric Eichinger.