Cheating for Gold
When I was a boy I was told, "Cheaters never prosper." Tell that to South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh. He admitted to cheating in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympics on his way to winning the gold medal. In addition to the glory of the gold medal, Van der Burgh is also credited with a new world record for that swim.
In the breaststroke, swimmers are allowed to take one "dolphin" kick at the start and one after each turn before entering into the motions of the breaststroke. The dolphin kick is not part of the breaststroke, but enables the swimmer to travel faster through the water than the breaststroke does. The more dolphin kicks a swimmer can get away with the faster the swim. Video replays show Van der Burgh taking three dolphin kicks instead of the allowed one. However, the Olympic judges stand along the deck of the pool and cannot see clearly what happens below the surface of the water. The judges have no underwater video to monitor the dolphin kicks so swimmers can sneak in more dolphin kicks than allowed. If a judge had seen Van der Burgh’s extra kicks, he would have been disqualified from the competition. But no judge saw those kicks.
We could chalk this story into the "things happen" category if Van der Burgh simply made a mistake and was not penalized for it. But it appears that Van der Burgh intentionally took two extra dolphin kicks to enhance his swim. He spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald and admitted to breaking the rules. He explained that other swimmers take the same approach to the race.
“It's got to the sort of point where if you're not doing it you're falling behind or you're giving yourself a disadvantage so everyone's pushing the rules and pushing the boundaries, so if you're not doing it, you're not trying hard enough." Van der Burgh told the paper. “It’s not obviously - shall we say - the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.”
In the Sydney Morning Herald story, Van der Burgh related that in a meet in Sweden in 2010 the race officials used underwater video technology to judge the swimmers regarding their stroke. He commented on that race,
“‘It was really awesome, because nobody attempted it (additional dolphin kicks). Everybody came up clean and we all had peace of mind that nobody was going to try.”
Van der Burgh's ethic seems to be that cheating is immoral, but if everyone else cheats, you would be foolish not to join the cheaters. He considers that a failure to intentionally break the rules is actually penalizing oneself with a disadvantage. The cheater’s ethic is not driven by a love for cheating so much as by a practical view of life. This pragmatic view of cheating appears to have captured the hearts of more and more people to the point that cheating does not carry the same stigma that it used to. Studies reveal that back in the 1940’s, only 20% of college students admitted to cheating in high school; today between 75% to 98% of college students surveyed admit to having cheated in high school.
Why not cheat if cheating brings good reward? Why not cheat if honesty places oneself at severe disadvantage to win the prize? Why not cheat if you will not get caught and everyone else is doing it? These are questions that very few individuals in the world can overcome. Yet we as believers have Gospel answers to these questions that drive us away from the cheater’s ethic and move us toward God’s pleasure.
The Gospel’s answer to these questions rests in the realm of the eternal. All human accomplishment is measured by their impact not upon our temporal lives, but upon eternity. Those who possess eternal life are aiming at a greater prize than those who are living for this world only. God’s Word teaches us that temporal victories will rob us of eternal joy if we disobey God in order to achieve them and that obedience to God brings rich reward (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; John 6:27;
The Gospel teaches us that we are redeemed out of sin by God’s grace alone through Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. Yet God’s grace does not lead us deeper into a life of sin that alienated us from HIm, but His grace shows us the way out of a life of sin. God gave us His commandments so that we might know how a redeemed people can enjoy God and bring Him glory forever and ever. How can we who were rescued from the misery of sin give ourselves willingly to it? We forfeit God’s joyful rewards when we give ourselves over to sin. Sin always brings forth death; sin never gives birth to life.
And to be sure, cheating is sin against God. At least five of the Ten Commandments are broken when we cheat.
Cheating breaks the First Commandment.
Ex. 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
Cheating places the god of success above the God of scripture. When we cheat, we acknowledge that we do not trust the LORD to give us the best blessing. We cheat because we believe we can accomplish for ourselves a better life than God can. Cheating and faith are polar opposites. Warren Wiersbe rightly said, “Faith is living without scheming.” Faith joyfully submits to God’s intended outcomes, rather than our own. Faith trusts God to use His methods to achieve the results He ordains for us, knowing that He is good, loving and wise.
Cheating breaks the Fourth Commandment.
Ex. 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Few parents beam with joy at the news that their son or daughter was caught cheating. Perhaps some parents feel proud and honored when their children cheat to gain success, but even in our spiritually dark world, cheating most often dishonors the name that our parents have given us.
Cheating breaks the Eighth Commandment.
Ex. 20:15 “You shall not steal.
When we cheat, we rob God of the glory that is due Him in our lives. When we cheat, we rob our community of the moral strength. When we cheat, we rob our competitors of a fair contest. When we cheat, we rob ourselves of the joy of true accomplishment.
Cheating breaks the Ninth Commandment.
Ex. 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Cheating requires that we lie and cover up our lie. We cannot cheat and be a man or woman of truth. Jesus taught us that the devil is the father of all lies. We speak his language when we cheat.
Cheating breaks the Tenth Commandment.
Ex. 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
The reason we cheat is because we want something that we do not have. The gleam of the gold medal lures us from our contentment in God. From discontentment with God, we lust after something we do not have (a gold medal, a dream job, an “A” on a test, an illicit relationship, a low golf score, etc. . . ), thinking it will fill the void. But the person who is not content with God will never be content. God alone can give us that which makes us eternally happy.
Do cheaters prosper? Yes. They sometimes win the gold medal. Do cheaters prosper? No. They forfeit the eternal for the short-lived; they forfeit true joy for a momentary thrill.