Recently I watched the Academy Award-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America.” I have never watched a more interesting and yet tragic real-life human drama. The documentary tells the story of O.J. Simpson, one of the greatest football players to ever play the game. It starts with his early years growing up in inner-city San Francisco, his playing days in college and professional football, and shifts to the trial when he was charged for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The documentary concludes with his spiral into debauchery and his conviction in 2008 for kidnapping and robbery.
This is an incredible story of a public figure who had everything going for him, yet his celebrity only masked a deeper, troubling reality. One of the things that stood out to me was O. J.’s incredible drive to make a name for himself. In an interview, it was revealed that O. J. didn’t even care about making money - he only cared about becoming famous. And he would do anything to get it.
Jesus said in Luke 9:25, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose or forfeit his soul?” Could it be there’s something more to life than wealth, celebrity, and power? And in seeking after these goals, are we in danger of forfeiting that part of us which is most important? Throughout the documentary it became obvious to me that O.J. was willing to do whatever it took to gain the world - sadly, even forfeiting his soul. He was the type of guy who loved to see his name in the headlines or his face on the screen. The film talks about how acclaim and notoriety are given to celebrities in our culture. Even if they’re not the greatest people, our culture worships them because they’re famous.
As I watched this story, it made me think a lot about my son, who is a talented athlete. Is it possible to achieve success in athletics and other platforms in this culture without losing your soul? My hope for my son is that he could excel in sports or any platform in life and recognize that it was God who gave him the gifts and abilities to achieve excellence.
But sometimes, if I’m honest, I wonder whether it’s possible to pull this off. Whenever we are talented in a certain arena of life, people applaud us. And when people applaud us, it’s so easy to become prideful. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12 to not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to, but this is such a slippery slope when others are telling us how great we are. It has been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Could it also be said that celebrity corrupts, and excessive celebrity corrupts absolutely?
I think the real issue we have to think about is this: Who really deserves the glory?
It says in I Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” A person’s chief goal, even in the mundane things of life, should be to live for God’s glory. In spite of the fact that he once claimed to be Christian, I think O. J. Simpson’s chief failure is that his life was about achieving glory for himself - and not glory for God.
When we seek to bring glory to God, we align ourselves with His will. Then, we come to see that anything we accomplish that has real value is accomplished through His strength and power - and we should make sure everybody knows it. When we are seeking to bring glory to ourselves, all our efforts are about making ourselves look good. In this effort to make ourselves look good, we often compromise our integrity, and we see this as acceptable if, in the end, we get what we want: the applause of others.
The greatest thing about Jesus is that He allows U-turns. You can be one mile from the gates of hell and realize your heart is as dark as coal, but in admitting that you’re a sinner and accepting that Christ has died on the cross for your sins, you can be forgiven. And when you’re forgiven, the slate is wiped clean and you’re brought into a right relationship with a holy God who begins changing you from the inside out. And then you truly become a glorious being - but it’s not a glory that originates with you. You become a reflection of the glory of One far greater.
I hope the infamy and disgrace of O.J. Simpson will turn out to be a story of redemption; that he would sincerely receive the grace and forgiveness of Christ, and then give glory to the One who truly deserves it.
Pastor Toby Gallego
Riviera Baptist Church