Aly Raisman’s 2012 Olympic gold-medal winning floor exercise was awe-inspiring – I couldn’t help but hold my breath and cheer her on during the performance. Her routine compelled my spontaneous applause and ecstatic comments. “That was perfect!” “Excellent!” “Amazing!” “It couldn’t have been better!” “She didn’t even wobble!” I said to my husband. The next day, I replayed her performance for my daughter and granddaughter, and I think I was even more excited than before. I was enraptured and delighted by Aly’s performance and did not hesitate to joyfully express my pleasure. Why?
Was it because of empathy?
Maybe it was because I identified with Aly somehow. Like her, I am an American and I grew up in a family that, to this day, still dances and performs, so I grew up dancing. At least three of my cousins still have dance studios and many more of them, including my niece (see picture above), who has been a highly competitive gymnast in her own right, are involved in dance or stage performance in one form or another. Consequently I appreciate the art of dance (I rarely think of it as a sport), and I especially love gymnastics. Perhaps my identification with Aly was one of the factors that motivated my unprompted praise of her.
On a deeper level though, I know my empathy doesn’t totally explain my uninhibited enthusiasm. Rather, I think it was mostly the sheer beauty – the perfection – of Aly’s performance that kept my breath in and pushed it out with transformative vibrations that produced uninhibited words of praise. After all there were other American gymnast who, though they captivated me, did not do so to the degree that Aly did in this event.
You just know perfection when you see it.
I was thinking about all this and about the Apostle John’s declaration, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.
The beauty of Aly’s performance was blatantly apparent, I suspect, because – well, because you just know perfection when you see it. We know it, John knew it, and Jesus’ other disciples knew it when they saw it. Like a camera that spans the Olympic crowd, we can look in and see them seeing it.
As Jesus was making his triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a colt, the crowd was throwing their coats on the road. In Luke 19, we read these words:
As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:
“ Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” Luke 19:37-40 (NASB)
Like the Olympic crowds, the disciples were vigorously expressing authentic praise. They were throwing their coats and excitedly communicating the delight they felt oozing from the core of their being. They saw and felt something of Jesus’ moral beauty and greatness, and without hesitation, they joyfully shouted genuine praise.
Perfection is apparent when juxtaposed with imperfection.
The beauty of Aly’s near-perfect performance was also blatantly apparent, frankly I think, because it was seen in relation to the non-perfection of the other gymnasts’ performances. Her perfection was more sharply brought into focus by the mistakes of the other gymnasts.
As I was thinking about this I realized that the obviousness of the discrepancy between the perfect and the non-perfect at least points us the answer to the question, “Why does God allow sin in the world?”
Glory is the goal.
To briefly explore this idea, we have to keep in mind the end goal. The goal of the athletes at the Olympics is gold and glory right? Glory for their country, maybe glory for themselves, and perhaps, for some athletes, glory for God. God’s goal, ultimate and foremost, is always the upholding of his glory, which, by the way (like the gold-medal performances we revel in) results in our joy.
God, through the Prophet Isaiah, says:
Be joyful … rejoice … be exceedingly glad God says: “For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Isaiah 66:10, 18-19 (NASB)
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24 (NASB)
The Apostle Paul says:
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Eph. 1:13-14 (NASB)
The Apostle John says:
Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying,
“ Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:6-7 (NASB)
Can’t you just feel the joy in all this glory? Joy and glory – they go together. And the joy that comes from seeing an Olympic gold-medal performance is only a taste of the joy God’s glory brings to the heart. And that joy is only a taste of the joy we will feel when we see God face-to-face in his unveiled glory – that we will be able to explore and experience and revel in forever and ever.
Why does God allow sin in the world?
So my long around point is, God allows sin, and yes, even planned for it (See Acts 2:22-23 for example.), in the world because ultimately it enhances his glory like the way the mistakes of the other gymnasts enhanced Aly Raisman’s glory. We read of Jesus:
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36 (NASB)
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 (NASB)
All things – good and bad, holy and evil, were created for God – for his forever glory. So how does our sin enhance God’s glory? Here are just a few observations:
Without sin, we would NOT see …
- God’s kindness. (Eph. 2:1-7)
- God’s mercy. (Luke 1: 76-68; Rom. 9:22-24; Rom. 11:32)
- God’s righteousness. (Rom. 3:5-8, 21-26)
- God’s holiness. (Heb. 7:26)
- God’s grace. (Rom. 5:20-21)
- God’s justice. (Tit. 3:3-7)
- God’s faithfulness. (Rom. 3:3-4)
- God’s forgiveness. (Matthew 26:28; Luke 24:46-47)
- God’s reconciling work. (Col. 1:21-23)
- God’s sacrificial love. (Rom. 5:8)
- God’s salvation. (Matt. 1:21)
Yes. Without sin we would not see God’s glory. And, like the gymnasts who made mistakes, the reverse is also true. Without God’s glory we would not see our sin – our imperfect glory. When God’s perfection comes up against our failure to measure up, our flaws, even the ones that didn’t seem so bad, are emphasized and we feel diminished – we feel shame. Apart from God’s glory, our imperfections would not be so obvious would they?
Glory and Joy
Yet, despite the shame we feel at our own failure to live up to God’s glory, we still feel joy. How can this be? When we recognize God’s moral perfection and see him in his transforming, brilliantly spectacular, everlasting, and ever-amazing glory – in the radiant light of who he is – we are joyful in a similar but much more profound way than when we, along with the competing gymnasts, see Aly Raisman in her transient bit of fleeting Olympic glory. Yes we are truly joyful for Aly and on a deeper and more lasting way for God.
But, we are also joyful in ourselves because of the delight we feel as we experience a beauty and perfection outside ourselves. It is this outside glory that drives us to our knees, and this glory that compels our praise. And, we must admit that we are joyful, because on some level we believe that this glory could somehow be our own. We come back to the idea of identifying with the one whose performance is perfect and we believe deep down inside that the glory of the glorious one could possibly belong to us.
And I can’t resist. Here’s the gospel. Aly’s performance can never be your performance. But, because Jesus has already taken our pitiful performance as his – because he took our sin and shame on himself and accepted our consequences for it (God’s wrath due us) upon himself, Jesus’ flawless moral performance – his perfect obedience – can be yours. It can be yours when you rely on his perfectly lived life and lean on it as your own.
Think about it. It’s like Jesus, gold medal in hand, is standing on the highest Olympic podium. The anthem of the victor is playing and he is extending not just the medal, but literally his performance with all it’s glory, to you. When you take it as yours, rely on it as yours, God literally gives you Jesus’ right standing with God – Christ’s righteousness becomes yours. You don’t get gold, but you do get God.