Forgiveness: Should We Accept Lance Armstrong’s Apology?

Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

The world is full of liars. However, not all liars are famous and there’s only one Oprah. Consequently, most of us will not be able to display our contrition in a two day OWN Network exclusive. If you haven’t heard yet, Lance Armstrong recently became the last person to admit to what everyone else on earth already believed. With the help of Oprah, cyclist legend Lance Armstrong admitted to cheating, lying, deceiving, and doping his way to victory, fame and fortune.

The spectacle of this monetized media event had less to do with the details of Armstrong’s deception as it had to do with his willingness to admit to those details. Unless it’s a Perry Mason rerun, individuals seldom confess to their crimes. Of course when an individual does confess after a season of prolonged denial, that confession is usually greeted with a fair amount of skepticism, cynicism and downright hostility. As I peruse the blogosphere, I find a large portion of the masses thoroughly unimpressed by Armstrong’s attempt to tell the truth and come clean. The reasons individuals give for rejecting Armstrong’s confession are for the most part variations on the same theme. The following are a few of the excuses people give to disregard any sincerity in the Armstrong/Oprah event:

1. It’s too late to apologize! Lance Armstrong had nothing left to do but apologize. The cycling community had already stripped him of his titles and any last vestige of respect or honor was soon to fall as well. Lance Armstrong apologized only when there was nothing left to do but apologize. I will not receive his apology because it was simply the only option he had left to preserve some shred of dignity or to have some sort of future in the public sector.

2. He’s an evil man, deserving judgment, not forgiveness! In this camp, individuals see Lance Armstrong has a wicked man willing to do whatever it takes to gain power and fame. They believe his wickedness cannot be atoned for by a last ditch confession. Regardless of what he says now or does in the future, he has done too much wrong to ever make things right.

3. He’s a publicity hound! If you are serious about setting the record straight, you don’t turn it into a monetized Oprah ratings bonanza. There are ways to apologize; this however is not the way. It’s just another example of why Lance Armstrong’s words and actions can’t be trusted.

4. He’s a pathological, emotionless monster! If he was sincere in his apology, his interview with Oprah would have been far more emotional. His distant look and measured cadence reveals a narcissistic, pathological man who cannot be trusted. His apology is just another example of this twisted pathology.

Of course there are many other reasons people are unwilling to accept Lance Armstrong’s new found contrition. Some are still angry and desire many more steps to be taken before they are willing to accept his apology. Others simply don’t believe in the concept of forgiveness or reconciliation. For these individuals, there is a threshold for acceptance and restoration. Once that threshold is crossed, there is simply no turning back.

I have to admit that I’m not a big cycling fan. I’m aware of the Tour de France as well as the Yellow Jersey. I certainly have kept myself informed on the once amazing story of Lance Armstrong and the Live Strong empire. Even so, I’ve never really been more than a disinterested spectator. Consequently, I was never that concerned with whether or not Lance Armstrong continued his domination as the world’s best cyclist. His prominence was a factoid in my life. In other words, I never gave him my fan heart. With this in mind, I might not have the best perspective.

Regardless, as a pastor, I have certainly seen and experienced a fair amount of terrible betrayals. I’ve seen marriages devastated by sexual infidelity, I’ve seen ministers and ministries crumble as the result of deception and deceit, and I’ve met a fair amount of people unwilling to admit to their faults, sins, and failings. In fact, almost every person I’ve ever met has proved themselves to be a liar. Including me!

I know that last statement is hard to take. Most individuals do not want to be thrown into the liar category. However, that’s what we are from time to time, we are liars. The Bible says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” The Apostle Paul adds, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

In other words, every human becomes a liar and sinner, falling far short of God’s will and their own most noble aspirations. The Christian gospel is rooted in an understanding of human sin and brokenness. Christianity is not a gospel for the pointing out of sins, it is a gospel for the purpose of rescuing sinners. Every Christian starts their abundant life journey in admitting to the death their sins have created.

I believe God is perfect. He is all that is right, pure, and holy. He is the perfect judge, the perfect answer. I believe that every wrong must be judged, every sin must be taken into account. There must be justice brought to every unjust act. For me, I see this justice in the cross of Jesus Christ. In the simplest terms, the crucifixion of Christ is an act of judgment and freedom. It is an act of punishment and rebirth.

As every sin deserves punishment, Christ took every sin upon himself. Instead of God directing His punishment and justice on me, He gave my punishment to His Son. Jesus Christ took my place; He took my sins and the punishment for my sins on the cross. He determined that He would be my righteousness. As Christ knew no sin, He became the perfect offering for my imperfect state. In yielding His life, He freed me from the punishment of sin and He identified with what it means to be sinned against.

As I have been sinned against, so has Christ. As I have need for restoration, Christ has become my offering. He is both justice for my sins, and justification before God. This is my Gospel. The good news of the cross of Jesus Christ. While I was an enemy of God, God took my punishment upon himself, and exchanged His life for my freedom.

It is within this theological framework I look at the life and contrition of Lance Armstrong. As far as the sincerity of his confession, only God knows. However, let me be clear that no apology or act of contrition by Lance Armstrong will ever be good enough or right enough for him to earn the favor of God. Lance Armstrong’s best moral efforts cannot and will not undo his wicked actions. It is true of Lance Armstrong and it is true of me. Only Jesus Christ can make a man clean. Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness is greater than any sin or any lie. He can make all things new. He can rescue any person who entrusts their life to His care.

So do I accept Lance Armstrong’s apology? I accept it as best I can. Do I forgive Lance Armstrong? I forgive him as best I can. The heart of any person is only truly known by God. God is the only judge, so I will entrust these matters to His care. Most importantly, I will point Lance Armstrong and every other person on the face of the earth towards the direction of the One who set me free, the One who took my sins and failings and nailed them to a cross. The One who exchanged my depravity for a robe of righteousness. The One who will do this for anyone who calls upon His name to be saved.

Today, I point to Jesus and urge Lance Armstrong to embrace the strong arms of an everlasting God. Apologizing is a good place to start as long as we place our sins in the hands of an everlasting, loving God.

Doug Bursch posts at Fairlyspiritual.org. He tweets @Fairlyspiritual

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Author: DOUG BURSCH

Doug Bursch hosts Live from Seattle with Doug Bursch on 820 AM KGNW. He also pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington.

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18 Comments

  1. Forgiveness can make sense when there is genuine remorse and genuine acknowledgement of having done wrong. Armstrong’s abandonment of principles took place over a long period of time and was relentless. He hurt a great many people with his lies and he knew he was hurting them. All he cared about was himself. His current media ops haven’t changed this imo. Save forgiveness for those who deserve it.

  2. I have no problem forgiving Lance for anything he has done to me. I personally am in need of forgiveness for many things and can not be stingy about forgiveness. If you ask my forgiveness, you will get it. Of course, I can not forgive Lance or anyone else for things they have done to people other than me.
    I will say that I don’t fully understand the hard-nosed attitude that many are displaying against Lance. He cheated at some sports; he did not kill anyone, corrupt anyone, destroy anything irreplacable. The world keeps turning as it did before Lance did anything.

  3. Not a question for me to answer. He has done nothing to me.

    I do have a question though…

    Had LA not cheated.
    Had he not become a hero for cancer survivors.
    He would have never been able to start the Livestrong organization, which has contributed millions to cancer research.

    Do we think the person that would have taken his place as “the best ever” would have done the same? If not, is cancer research better off because of LA’s lies? Are we closer to cures because of LA’s lies? Are we better off as a society because of LA’s lies?

    In the big picture, considering the terrible damage done to others by LA, and considering the good the Livestrong organization has done for society…..

    if you could go back in time and could out LA for cheating…would you?

    I would, but I could understand the reasoning of those that wouldnt.

    … how many people beat cancer because they believed in LA and his lies?

  4. Frankly I don’t think LA cares about whether anyone forgives him or not. Given the fact he cheated for years, made a lot of money doing so, and ripped anyone who ever questioned his integrity a new one, I’d say it’s clear what sort of character he has. He is someone who believes that winning at ANY cost is OK and I think he still believes this. If he had the choice now between being on Oprah or having never been caught in the first place who thinks he would choose the former? I’m sick and tired of the culture of cheating, whether in sports, politics, or business.

  5. Actually it is not a question that i ask…Lance disappointed many… but it seems the person that Lance really has to make it right with is himself…and to that which is greater than the small within him that would do this…Different ones have different names for THAT…. here it is seen as call Jesus Christ that can wash his sin (egoic/lower nature)… From truly getting right within himself will allow him getting right with others…It is just a publicity stunt if the goal is to get others to forgive him so he can have his fame or sports back…Cart before the horse…

    I pray for Lance and truly hope this is a time for him to return to a place of integrity… Hope the best for him, and may he make reparation… and may he be guided from the deeper Source as he goes..

    Shannon as i read your comment went back and pulled a link by an Olympian runner…

    Viva The Un-Lance Armstrong

    http://www.theamericanconserva.....armstrong/

    What makes the difference in Lance and Ivan? These kinds of actions, more is going on that just winning…

    Two weeks ago, on December 2, Spanish athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

    Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

    “I didn’t deserve to win it,” says 24-year-old Fernández Anaya. “I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

    The sportsman as mensch. That there is a good man. I bet he has a real girlfriend, too.

  6. OS. I would have blown by the guy and won the race. Awareness, understanding the rules, and knowing the location of the goalline are all part of the game. Not knowing the location of the finish line, the only goal of the race, is inexcusable. The guy that stopped short did not deserve to win.

    But that’s just me…and everyone I know :)

  7. It wasn’t the lies that did LA(Nixon)in, it was the coverup and his suing people for what he’s now confessing to. LA and Nixon are both dirtbags. Time may temper LA image, but he’s still a dirtbag…

  8. Agree with rudi. We live in an age where people of great means, ability, and connections tend to also be given great leeway. This is true whether talking about drug abuse in pro sports or white collar crime in general. The banking industry would be an example of the latter. Accountability actually means holding people accountable. To me this means forgiveness has to be earned, not granted willy nilly. And good for Anaya btw.

  9. Just chirping here….

    When the subject of cheating in sports two memories float up…

    No steroids or EPO but just plain old cheating memories that turned into life lessons.

    Through out the school years sports was both a great love and a savior…Sports focused and channeled the teenager ‘gang’ energy if i had lived in another place and time. There was lots of pay-offs in rural Texas community to be good in sports. Conditioned the body, self esteem, winning, positive attention from school and community.

    First lesson on being a Cheat…

    High School Track, Senior year just weeks before graduation.

    We were at a regional track meet…I had finished my five events which was the limit for any participant. Was chillin on the bus when Coach came to inform he was pulling Carolyn B in the last event of the meet. We were a couple points from winning the meet overall and we only needed to place on the mile run to win the meet. He informed me that i would be running the mile. Looked at Carolyn and she had tears; it was her only event. She was not athletic, she would not of likely won, but she had put in long days of practice,. It was her event. I protested and reminded Coach i had already finished five and it was against the regulations to enter more than five. His reply; “No one will catch it.”

    I ran the mile and with each lap felt wrong in taking Carolyn’s event. Anger fueled the run and i lead the pack until about three feet from the ribbon.. At that point without a sense of contemplation, came to a full stop and watched the runners from behind pass the finish line. Then walked off the field….

    Coach went ballistic, throwing the clip board and calling me a quitter, told me to get on the bus. sit in the back roll for he did not want to see my face…Then he let me know i had been chosen to be the best female athletic but that would be change, because i had quit..

    I felt intense shame for a number of years for being a ‘quitter ‘, for costing the team it’s win. That was the strength of the programming from sports.. Winning was everything.

    It took a few years to sort through whose shame it was and to realize i did not have the ribbon or the award, but i had lived an integrity from within.

    That became a life lesson marker: ” If i cannot have a ‘no’ in any situation, then i cannot have a full ‘yes’.

    Perhaps i would add that if an athletic CANNOT lose, they should not be playing sports.

    ********************

    Fast forward four years…

    I was at the Southern Baptist Journeyman program that is set up on the Peace-Corp model. Supported by the church for college graduates to go over seas in a mission program to do secular work.

    Our orientation was six weeks at Meredith College in North Carolina. We started each morning at six running a mile…The last day of the Journeyman training there was a timed competition. I was running without shoes and about a third into that last run injured my foot… There was pain and i wanted to win… There was an area with trees and rough hard ground, i chose to cut the corner and cheat… It took off about 30 yards…I ‘won’ the race, Marlin came in a close second. It should of been his race to win, but i cheated… He was the only one that knew i had cut the corner…He gave me a look of knowing but he did not tell… And because of shame, i did not tell either….

    I won the final race at a Southern Baptist Journeyman training program…. All these years later when i hear about sports cheating, i still remember that incident with shame. I cheated and won. It was a sour…My character revealed a flaw that day.

    When the issues of cheating come forth, as they do from time to time; I cannot say, except for the grace of God, there go i…. Instead i say; “There go i.”

    All these years later….One incident left a sense of integrity the other left a sense of humiliation and failure in the place that counts….

    Years later i got an apology letter from the track coach stating he was wrong, and had put winning over integrity.

  10. I appreciate the read and the comments. I personally don’t believe people can atone for their failings. I’ve found that when people think they have earned their right standing they often suffer from a fair amount of hypocrisy or self-righteousness. When one can’t admit to their failings, they will justify and excuse their failings as being justifiable.

    When people believe in grace, they are more able to look at their faults. When individuals believe they are made right by their noble actions, they are often less likely to acknowledge their inexcusable actions. We abide in a culture full of people who feel right and justified in their actions. Consequently, we are quick to judge others who do not act in our “righteous” way. This ultimately leads to a lot of Pharisees calling each other names, while we refuse to acknowledge the corruption within us.

    I know I am strange in this belief, but I believe wicked thoughts are the same as wicked actions. I believe God has seen the intentions of my heart, my pride, my jealousy, my bitterness, and my anger. In my own thoughts and actions, I have a worthless righteousness. However, through God’s grace I’ve found forgiveness and right standing. I now live as best I can to do right. I do right not to earn my righteousness, but to express my genuine love for God’s grace that set me free.

    Alright, enough from the preacher. You all are very kind in the grace you extend to me in reading and interacting with my posts :)

  11. Wicked thoughts effect you.
    Wicked actions hurt the world.

    Equating the two reduces the last.

    I’ve read the bible verse you speak of…and it is one of the reasons I am not a fan of direct interpretation of the whichever version of a translated bible. Slippery slope? Yes. But that’s faith.

  12. Shannon, don’t really know what verse you are referring to. My thoughts come from many verses and books in the Bible. Regardless, just writing what I live by, not believing others need to see it my way. It’s served me well and has given me a happy life. So i share because these things give me joy. All the best to you on your journey.

  13. OS, much courage demonstrated in the first story and also in sharing the stories with TMV. As for the second story? Who among us hasn’t made mistakes. Needless to say, your experience with a lapse in character wasn’t protracted, studied and practiced year in and year out as LA’s was – rather it seems to have momentary. Besides, you clearly suffered from your experience at the hands of your own conscience. Some people only seem to develop a conscience after they’ve been caught.

    I believe wicked thoughts are the same as wicked actions.

    Well Doug, if given the choice between having someone fantasize about shooting me or having them actually carry out the deed I’d choose the former. Clearly they are not the same in this sense. As for god’s involvment, any god with a lick of sense would have to realize that humans are a LOT better at controlling their actions than they are their thoughts. If wicked thoughts were a crime we’d need a thousand times as many prisons as we have now.

  14. I guess I wasn’t clear enough in my post or response. I believe thoughts and actions are the same in that they are both ways I sin. Obviously they have different practical earthly consequences. Regardless, I believe I do not stand righteous without Christ’s grace. I genuinely believe I am hopelessly lost without God’s grace. Even though others might see my behavior as admirable or deserving of reward, I believe all rebellion is rebellion, in thought and in deed. None of it can stand outside of God’s grace. This post is not about ranking righteousness. It’s about the gospel. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is through God’s grace all are saved. Certainly plenty of reasons to disagree with this, just presenting the Gospel as I see it in Scripture.

  15. OS, I am impressed. So impressed. Peace to you.

    On a separate note; I watched Part Two of the Lance interview. It is different from Part One, it was clear to me that Lance is suffering in an honest and thoughtful way, as are/will his kids. Not suffering from the loss of 75 million in future earnings (bad enough). I mean human suffering.

    His request/suggestion to his 13 y/o son Max to stop defending him on the Internet, because he did dope, was heartbreaking. That is as basic as it gets. His ex wife, Kristen, is a source of strength, both spiritual and as a moral compass.

    Lance sounds and looks like a sick person. He appears to be an addict. Anyone who has dealt with an addict first hand knows that their actions make no sense at all to the ‘more’ normal person. You don’t tell a person with an eating disorder to “shake themselves”.

    A person who is starving themselves to death can’t shake themselves out of it. The brain can be a horrible place to be. Dis-ease may be a disease. Lance said he is undergoing therapy, sounds like he has been exposed to a 12 step program, has some renewed spirituality and I hope for the health of his kids that he has a breakthrough.

    I will never say what he did is okay. What he did is “sick”.

    He is a young man. It may take tens years of healing but I predict there is good in this guy that will be uncovered with the help of the love of his kids and others. He probably has 40 years (a second life) to make my point or be part of another tragedy.

  16. thanks Zephyr and KP….

    KP… had similar thoughts and feelings after the second interview… sensed it was hard for Lance to be in that chair…speaking out the deception…face to face with his greatest fear…Many have suggested that Lance has narcissistic fixation or character disorder… the core avoidance of narcissism is said to be shame. The very thing he feared the most he brought to himself. In that chair he was fallible, exposed, beaten, fearful,self chumped, and dumped by the world by his own loser…Really hope this was a bottom for Lance and he has a second chance, as you suggest KP, to do something with his life..

    “Two things scare me. The first is getting hurt. But that’s not nearly as scary as the second, which is losing. Athletes…they’re too busy cultivating the aura of invincibility to admit to being fearful, weak, defenseless, vulnerable, or fallible, and for that reason neither are they especially kind, considerate, merciful, or benign, lenient, or forgiving. To themselves or anyone around them.” Lance Armstrong

    I think there is hope for Lance, he is not OJ… OJ continues in his inflation and deception, at least Lance admitted his flaws… One thing Lance could do is become an activist against sports doping…

  17. Doug, I dont recall the exact verse either. But the image of it from the first time I read it is engrained in my head. Wish I could be more specific.

    OS, that quote from LA is a bit scary. Cultivating the auro of invincibility does not equate to that sort of behavior.

    My goodness, the man road a bike. Look at a sport like football, where you can actually die on the field. NFL players do not all behave in that way. Peyton Manning would be the exact opposite of what LA believes athletes to be.

  18. Since 2000, twelve professional cyclists have died during a race.

    Riders are on a flimsy frame that weighs about 15lbs. The have skinny tires and descend the Alps or some twenty mile climb in Colorado at 50 to 60 miles per hour through sharp corners, wearing something similar to underwear. They are in close quarters to one another. A puncture, miscalculating a corner or road debris can send the rider over a cliff or into a guardrail, resulting in death or great bodily harm.

    In the last ten years I have broken my wrist six times (I have titanium screws in there), my elbow twice and five ribs. And then there is the loss of skin, road rash,contusions and consussions. I used to descend at over 50mph; but having watched others amatuers I know die in races I participated in and I have slowed down. I am sad to say I have rolled through the blood of a man who went down and into a guardrail and was killed moments before I got there.

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