I have no inclination to forgive Lance Armstrong. I feel no need to. Armstrong, the infamous cyclist who has now been stripped of several Tour de France victories, an Olympic medal, and has had a host of other indignities hoisted upon his head, has finally confessed to doping in order to enhance his performance. And his confession has seemed to turn multitudes to dismay.
Many had considered him a hero. His story was compelling. A cancer survivor, he came back stronger than ever after his treatment to dominate the world cycling circuit, most notably in his unprecedented – and unlikely to ever be repeated – 7 consecutive victories in the Tour de France. He then translated his fame and his story into the tremendously successful cancer research foundation, LiveStrong, which has raised and given millions-upon-millions of dollars toward the treatment and eradication of cancer. To find out that Armstrong’s success was synthetic has led many to feel betrayed.
But not me.
It is not that I have any admiration for Armstrong. I have had little interest in him for some time. Armstrong is a seriously flawed guy, whose most serious character flaws had little to do with his doping. Behind the scenes he was a despicable person who destroyed dozens of lives through threats and lawsuits in order to preserve his persona – his lie. This is far worse than cheating in a sporting event – especially in a sport where nearly all the other participants were cheating just as much.
Why do I feel no need to forgive Lance Armstrong? Simple. Because I never expected anything from him in the first place. His failures and his fall have cost me nothing.
In the Bible the concept of forgiveness is often likened to that of swallowing a debt. Whenever someone wrongs us – or we wrong another – whether by actual stealing, or tarnishing a reputation, or some other offense, something is taken from the victim by the perpetrator. And a debt incurs. (See Parable of Unmerciful Servant, for instance.) What is taken may be wealth, or it may simply be peace of mind. But with any actual offense something, tangible or not, is actually taken.
Jesus’ instruction to his followers who have been wronged is to extend forgiveness to the offender, just as forgiveness has been extended to us for our offenses. Our offenses may be against other people, but they are also always against the Lord. If nothing else, by our offense we belittle the Lord. Or put another way, consistent with the above premise, we rob Jesus of the glory he is due. We essentially say he is not enough; that we need something in addition to or instead of God and what he promises and provides. Yet, in the face of such insult Jesus reminds us that we have been forgiven. He has swallowed the debt we owe, paying for it with his own blood on the cross. Further, by telling us that we ought to forgive as we have been forgiven, Jesus is not merely telling us to follow his model, he reminds us that we have been forgiven and we can rest in his promise to supply whatever we need. In other words, whatever has been taken from us he has, and will, more than make up for. Our loss now restored, we have no need to extract a penalty on those who have wronged us.
So with this understanding, one may wonder why I say I have no inclination, no intention, to forgive Lance Armstrong. The answer is simple. In this instance, Lance Armstrong took nothing from me. I have had no vested interest in him. While I found his successes impressive, and his cancer research foundation commendable, not one aspect of my life has depended upon him. So now to find out that he is a deeply flawed man, just as I am, does me no damage whatsoever. So what is there for me to forgive?
I wonder how many people, who are rightly appalled by Armstrong’s heinous behavior, have actually been effected by his fall-from-grace. It seems to me that those who are seemingly chagrined should ask themselves what Armstrong has taken from them. For some, the answer is a lot. But for most, if the answer is as simple as they lost their hero, then perhaps they ought to consider why they attached so much of themselves in a mere man in the first place.
The only man worthy of hero status is Jesus. To offer such adulation to anyone else is to rob Jesus of the glory he alone deserves. Yet this offense of our toward him is an offense he willingly swallows, if we will only confess and repent.