The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is the title of an Alan Sillitoe short story, published in 1959 and later adapted into a motion picture of the same name (pictured left). Much like its American counterpart Catcher in the Rye, this tale of nonconformity often finds itself on the reading lists of university professors. The story's humanist credentials notwithstanding, the words of the title form an evocative metaphor for Christian living.

Many a sermon have touched upon the Apostle Paul's use of racing metaphor to illustrate God's purpose in his life and in the lives of believers. In Acts 20:24, he told the Ephesian elders, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

To stress the importance of Christian maturity and perseverance to overcoming life's difficulties and temptations, Paul invoked the training and discipline required of an athlete: "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air." (1 Corinthians 9:25-26)

The 1981 film "Chariots of Fire," which chronicled the true story of Scots Olympian-turned-Christian missionary Eric Liddell, famously employed Paul's metaphor for dramatic effect. In the movie, Liddell says to a group of people, "One day, like the Apostle Paul, I pray I will be able to say, 'I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.' May that victory be yours as well."

In real life, Liddell revealed a deeper understanding of Scripture and Godly purpose when he wrote:

My whole life had been one of keeping out of public duties, but the leading of Christ seemed now to be in the opposite direction, and I shrank from going forward. At this time I finally decided to put it all on Christ. After all, if He called me to do it, then he would have to supply the necessary power.

In going forward, the power was given me. Since then, the consciousness of being an active member of the Kingdom of Heaven has been very real. New experiences of the grace of God, sense of sin, wonders of the Bible have come from time to time. All these fresh experiences have given me fresh visions of our Lord.
Born-again Christians feel a keen sense of isolation, for no longer are they enslaved to the spirit of this world. The world cannot understand a believer's struggle between the carnal and the spiritual — a struggle which Paul so eloquently summarizes in 2 Corinthians 12:10: "For when I am weak, then I am strong." The world may comprehend the Law and the breaking of the Law, but it does not comprehend the Holy Spirit and the grieving of the Holy Spirit.

A.W. Tozer perceived the profound loneliness that born-again believers can feel, even in the company of nominal Christians:
The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way....


Adjutorium said... on 10/14/2005 5:33 AM  

Thankyou for that. A "word" in season.

Anonymous said... on 10/18/2005 12:12 PM  

Have you seen this:

Yes, thank you for this encouraging and subtle post.