[The following commentary by C.J. Mahaney is republished here with permission. Public domain picture added.]
By now most of you have seen the photograph of Olympic superstar swimmer Michael Phelps filling his giant lungs from a bong of marijuana. When the picture appeared in a British tabloid, Phelps acknowledged it was “youthful and inappropriate.”
Now there is no debate over whether the 23-year-old is gifted with athletic greatness. He is. And financially Phelps is set for life, his agent Peter Carlisle estimating his potential earnings will reach somewhere around $100 million.* Which I’m told would equal a stack of $100 bills 360 feet tall!
The photograph of Phelps reminds me of myself prior to conversion, a competitive swimmer (of slightly lesser skill), a sinner (of greater degree), held captive by sin, pursuing the fleeting pleasures of this world. And sadly, in my case, pursuing sin with passion.
So what was Phelps searching for in that bong pipe? What emptiness in his soul was he trying to satisfy?
Once again we are reminded that athletic gifting, championship trophies, gold medals, and million dollar endorsement deals cannot satisfy the soul.
Last year, in the wake of his third Super Bowl championship, disillusioned Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted on 60 Minutes,
Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, “God, it’s got to be more than this.” I mean this isn’t, this can’t be, what it’s all cracked up to be.
I commend Brady for his honesty.
And no doubt some Pittsburg Steelers players are beginning to have similar thoughts.
But in Phelps’s case, if you listen to the media (with the exception of my man Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post) you hear a common chorus of excuses like “Give Phelps a break, nothing he did was anything worse than happens in an average weekend at a typical college campus.”
But we are not talking about a typical American college student. Phelps is a rich superstar.
This is what I find so striking: A man whose chest has been covered with gold medals, has achieved international fame, showered with awards, and blessed with an incomprehensible amount of money, still feels compelled to press his face to a bong.
It was Augustine who said that the soul is restless until it finds its rest in God. So true. Only God can satisfy the soul. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ provides forgiveness of sin, and therefore it is here in this gospel that we find rest for our restless souls.
Study the unflattering picture of Michael Phelps to be reminded of the deceitfulness of sin and the superficiality of fame and money. But also study the picture to be reminded of the message of Christ and him crucified for restless sinners like you, and me, and Michael Phelps.
* “Phelps Apologizes for Marijuana Pipe” By Karen Crouse, New York Times, February 1, 2009.