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Steele Johnson and David Boudia have faith in their diving

Steele Johnson and David Boudia dive in the synchronized men 10m platform during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Diving at the IU Natatorium on June 23, 2016, in Indianapolis. Photo by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

(RNS) Steele Johnson almost died on the diving platform.

In 2009, at age 12, he was practicing his favorite dive, a triple reverse somersault in a tuck position — watch for him to ace it in the men’s individual platform diving in Rio — when he cracked his skull on a concrete platform, sliced open his scalp and fell 33 feet into the pool.

His coach pulled him out and held his head together all the way to the hospital. Today, he still has some memory loss.

But Johnson, a Christian, has spoken of how his faith helped him recover and placed him in medal contention in Rio.

“I wanted to be the kid that had the big injury and came back from it and made the Olympics and all that stuff,” Johnson told the Indianapolis Star in June. “So it’s kind of embarrassing. But now I’ve kind of realized that God had his hand over all of it to help me come to the realization, like, that’s not why at all.

“He gave me this ability to dive,” Johnson said. “ … God kept me alive and he is still giving me the ability to do what I do.”

At the Rio Olympics, he competed in the 10-meter men’s synchronized platform diving with David Boudia, a three-time Olympian and a fellow Christian. On Monday (Aug. 8) they captured the silver.

In July, when the pair qualified for the Olympics — Johnson’s first and Boudia’s third — Johnson was so overwhelmed he doubled over with emotion before getting out of the pool.

“It’s cool because this is exciting, this is fun, but this is not what my identity will be for the rest of my life,” a dripping Johnson told NBC Sports. “Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ, not in the flips we’re doing.”

Boudia, who is six years older than Johnson, also said his diving is driven by his faith.

“We can’t take credit for this,” Boudia told NBC Sports. “To God be the glory.”

Of the pair, Boudia has the most experience in talking publicly about the connection between his faith and his sport. He has written an entire book about the subject, “Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption,” that hit stores a few days before the Olympics began.

In it, he tells how he went from a not particularly observant Catholic upbringing to evangelical Christian through the help of his Perdue University diving coach, Adam Soldati.

“I am not a diving coach who happens to be a Christian,” Soldati said in a talk he gave at his church just after the close of the 2012 London Olympics, where Boudia won a gold medal. “But rather I am a Christian, follower of Christ who happens to be a diving coach.”

In his book, Boudia talks about how he was engaged in “a destructive lifestyle” at Purdue and sought his coach’s guidance. He credits his gold medal to his conversion to evangelical Christianity.

“Whatever happens at the end of this Olympic Games is completely out of my control,” Boudia said in 2012. “God is totally sovereign over everything.”

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

44 Comments

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  • “God kept me alive”

    On the other hand, I guess HE mostly shrugs HIS shoulders and allows other people to die. Gotta wonder about that theology.

  • We’ll never understand the Creator of the universe. We don’t even understand the ocean. Absolute reasoning is not for us to figure out, but the focus here is Steele has a beautiful faith and that’s not for you to question the man’s heart. Stay in your lane.

  • I’m not questioning Steele’s faith. I’m questioning a capricious, arbitrary god.

    “Stay in your lane.” Are you saying you don’t like my questioning that theology? Do you think god should not be questioned, challenged, doubted, wrestled with?

  • Did you already forget your first remark? You quoted him with saying, “God kept me alive.” Followed with frowning upon that belief. Plain and simple, it’s his, let him have it. Just as we’re not sitting here questioning your doubt of it.

  • Yes, I quoted that. Then I questioned that theology of a capricious and arbitrary god. Whether you want to interpret that as questioning a theology or as Steele’s particular belief, is up to you. Steele can believe whatever he wants. It’s still a capricious and arbitrary god.

    BTW, if a particular faith system is so fragile and weak that it can’t survive a vigorous discussion, it’s not much to hold on to. Seems to me there was lots of vigorous theological discussion in the bible – Jacob, Job, etc. It made their faith stronger. I don’t see it as something to be afraid of, but you’re awfully defensive about it.

  • You interpret an internet article thread how you want. Not defensive whatsoever. I’m happy and confident in my belief, yet now you question my, and Steele’s, belief so obviously. It’s blatant judgement. So we should digest this as you being the all knowing and correct theologian? Either way, your over-analyzing does not harm me whatsoever. I simply hope you find answers to all of your questions. I’ll pray for you. Have a good night. 🙂

  • Yeah, you’re being very defensive about this. You’re working hard to avoid discussing theology, instead going after me personally.

    How do you explain your god favoring one athlete over another, curing one person’s illness over another, saving one life over another?

    BTW, it’s called “theodicy.” It’s a critical part of Christian doctrine. But you’re running hard from looking at it. It’s easy to leave Steele out of it, and simply debate the issue, if you feel your faith can handle it. Fear Not!

  • You are stating what I am by simply reading text, yet you don’t hear my tone and you don’t know the first thing about my heart. So, again, I am not defensive even though you continue to throw stones. I happily stated where I stand, however it seems very tough for you to allow the [agree-to-disagree] discussion to end.

    The original quote was flat out, “God kept me alive.” Please show me where he stated that God favors him over anyone else? You’re manipulating the article and bypassing everything even expressed. Our belief is thoroughly in knowing we go to Heaven and there is no defining “favoritism” here. We all will enjoy the afterlife much more than our current state. So for him to remain here is only saying, “I have more work to do, and the good Word to spread.” For us to die is the real calling. Read what I said before… you don’t understand this world, much less don’t expect to be able to understand every notion and intention of the Almighty. We base our clarity and lives on a soulful wisdom, not the flashes and sounds and smells of this temporary world that you invest so much in.

    Did you come directly to the Religious article to troll the comment thread? Or did you come looking for answers? I’m not sure of your motive other than continuing to tell me how I feel and crossing over into others’ lanes, as I mentioned before. I have my faith and I run from nothing, just because I choose to not stay up all night and give in to what you desire (an argument on the internet) does not mean I doubt anything in MY faith. If you want a real, adult, discussion we can chat in person or you can come to church with me and I will show you in a non-artificial way who I am and what my soul sees. Otherwise, there is nothing left here.

  • I never said Steele said god favors him over anyone else. It’s an apparent fact. Other Christians are competing but not winning. Why isn’t god making sure they win?

    A reasonable extrapolation goes to those who echo Steele by saying god saved them from some type of disaster, calamity or disease. It’s not rare to hear the belief that god saved one from cancer, for example. Why doesn’t god save others, especially all children? In other words, if god can do something beneficial for one, why not the other? That’s the heart of theodicy and a critical part of any whole Christian belief system.

    A discussion of theodicy has nothing to do with tone or your heart. You don’t need to continue attacking me personally. The fact that you do, while continuing to claim that you are not feeling defensive, plainly gives the lie to your words. Tone is irrelevant.

  • Hahaha, okay please show me where I attacked you personally… And you’re not attacking?

    You said, “How do you explain your god favoring one athlete over another…”

    You’re making absolutely no sense at this point. Take care.

  • “you being the all knowing and correct theologian”
    This is a sarcastic attack.

    “Did you come directly to the Religious article to troll the comment thread?”
    Now you’re calling me a troll.

    “Hahaha”
    That is an attempt to diminish me my laughing at my sincere comments.

    Of course I’m making sense. Why don’t you look up the word “theodicy” and then try to actually address my question. As I’ve been telling you, there is no need for you to take this personally. My question is about your understanding of how God works in pain and suffering. I continue to come back to this, and you continue to avoid it.

  • If you gotta wonder about that theology, wonder about it to yourself. Why even come on here and start this stupid unnecessary argument? I’m not here to say who’s right or wrong , but why even say anything at all? You already know what this article was about based on title, but yet you couldn’t resist reading it.. then you just HAD to leave this comment.

    Richard Simmons.. youre spot on.

  • I’ve mentioned this 3 times now. Refer to my very first comment to you. I went straight to the point.

    You want logic and a human answer to something that really does not matter. This is only a trial. The reason is NOT our responsibility. Take a leap of faith and trust and love. That’s our responsibility. Not to keep log of who died and why.

  • Also, you are manipulating every single thing said. I did not call you a troll. I asked you a legitimate question. Yet another claim of wording that never took place. You want to come to a positive, Christian article and question believers yet when you’re questioned yourself you become overly sensitive and “attacked.” Sorry that you’re such a victim.

  • Despite the fact that I find both Boudia and Johnson absolutely creepy in the way they regurgitate the same phrases over and over about their faith, I feel deeply sorry for them in that they are obviously pushed to keep their homosexuality in the closet.
    There is no way these two men aren’t gay. And it’s sad that their Evangelical faith is so hateful towards gays and so many other people on this planet, that these men can’t be who they are.
    If they could break free from the brainwashing and really find out what their spirituality is all about, they may be able to live an authentic life. Their lives must be so hard to live with the lies they have to try to keep telling themselves and all of the other cult members.

  • “Take a leap of faith and trust and love. That’s our responsibility”

    No it isn’t. If we have any such form of responsibility it is to use the intelligence we have to live our lives the best way we can for ourselves, those around us, those who will come after us and the world we all inhabit.

    I suspect the reason you wish us to think we should value faith, trust and love over evidence, rational thinking and the questioning of other people’s beliefs is that you know/suspect that superstition can’t survive under the spotlight of reason.

  • And why must we live the “best” way for ourselves and those around us when there is no greater cause and afterlife? It’s all “coincidence and for nothing,” yes? Then who cares?

    But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
    James 1:6

  • LOL! As I was watching Synchronized Diving, I was thinking that this must be the most unintentionally gay/pandering to female audience broadcast, of a sporting event I have seen.*

    I think it’s the nature of the sport that all of its contestants come off as close companions. You have two athletes who have to know how the other will move and react. Ice Dancing has the same issue. The contestants these days look like they are having sex right in the rink.

    * Men’s Individual Figure Skating excepted.

  • I don’t understand what their sexual preference has to do with their performance and why if they choose to live their lives in a particular manner it is an issue for other to labeled as liars. They should be able to live their lives and as they choose “to be who they are” on their own terms unless of course it is mandated by the left that they MUST obey and worship at the altar of progressive rules and regulations. How intolerant.

  • Theodicy is a widely accepted and historically supported part of the Christian religion. It’s studied at every reputable Christian educational institution, seminaries, colleges and universities.

    Theodicy was regularly discussed and argued in the bible. Job is all about theodicy. Job directly confronted god to complain about his suffering. Martha challenged Jesus himself about it. She wanted to know why, if Jesus could raise Lazarus, didn’t he save her brother from death so she and her sister Mary didn’t have to suffer with grief. Jeremiah was so overcome with the suffering of his calling as a prophet he cried out in agony to god and felt suicidal.

    What I wanted from Richard was a discussion of his take on theodicy, a very difficult subject. There’s nothing mean or trollish about that. I thought information might be shared and we both might learn something. I think the idea of a god who rewards some but not others is bogus. Richard disagreed. Why?

    What I don’t get is why Richard, and now you, Beef Jerry, get so upset by this topic and refuse to broach it. In fact, you feel I’m a trouble maker for simply asking. Vigorous discussion of one’s faith, like Jesus and the disciples regularly engaged in, strengthens one’s faith. It’s not something to hide from. It is to be relished. Jacob’s engagement with god was so energetic he came out of it with a dislocated hip!

    So yeah. Do not fear vigorous engagement with god.

  • I don’t see the Left mandating anything here. I read ritabita offering her opinion. As for the sexuality of the 2 divers, I don’t know, care, or even think about it.

  • You misunderstand me Brad. As a veteran of a great deal of study of theodicy and having been privileged to study with highly respected theologians, I’m familiar with the majority of arguments.

    I’ve never had a satisfactory answer for the grieving parent who wants to know why god ‘took’ her child. That’s in response to the egregious and common platitude, “I guess god just wanted your baby more.” Or similarly in adulthood, “God saved me from cancer/Why did god let my mom die.”

    The diver, Boudia, said he gives god credit for his victory and that god is sovereign over everything. If that is true, then god apparently chose the overwhelming majority of participants in the Olympic Games to be losers. God also decides who will live and who will die, who will become ill and who will be healthy. If one chooses to give god credit for good things, then god must also be blamed for bad things – earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorists, etc.

    To lay people who hold that belief of god as puppet master controlling a diving contest, football touchdowns, and life and death, how do you justify that good/bad paradox?

  • “Some people are extended more grace than others. God is just to extend whatever measure of grace he wants to whomever he wants.”

    This is exactly my point. If there is no rhyme or reason, then god is capricious and arbitrary.

    BTW, I did not “brush off” your resource. I’m familiar with the work of both Stein and Bahnsen. I’m not interested in their opinions. I was asking the commenters here about their understanding of theodicy. The folks here are also resources.

  • Richard – your comprehension skills are surely better than this.
    I didn’t say “must”, did I and I didn’t say it’s “for nothing” either did I?
    Although……based upon two simple reasons Living for others is the greater cause isn’t it?.
    Reason 1 – There is neither evidence nor need to support the concepts of deities and/or afterlives.
    Reason 2 – Human beings are social animals, we adapted from family based beings to social animals some 7,000 years ago when we started to live in towns, developed agriculture and had the spare time to invent religions.

    You quote the Bible as though it is an authority which cannot be questioned. I’ve news for you – the Bible is questionable throughout. From the two distinct versions (adapted for monotheism) of the Babylonian creation myth, through the non-existent flood event, via a made up captivity and exodus, the fictional census leading to a birth in Bethlehem, past the rending of the veil and the dead popping out to say hello (which went unnoticed by all the contemporary historians) to a book which is cheerfully misinterpreted as a forecast of the future rather than the coded criticism of Rome that it was.

    That book – yeah some authority you’ve got there pal..

  • But that’s not what you said that elicited my response. “God is just to extend whatever measure of grace he wants to whomever he wants.”

    Is there anyway “whatever . . . to . . . whomever” does not fit any definition of capriciousness?

    Merriam-Webster: “characterized by or liable to sudden unpredictable changes in attitude or behaviour; impulsive; fickle.”

    Oxford, Free Dictionary and others are very similar.

  • As a Christian myself, I have a serious problem with people with false humility who publicly credit Jesus for anything good that happens to them, even if it is at the expense of others. I guess if they really were to follow the teachings of Jesus, Bodia and Johnson would not have been competing knowing that their silver medal was going to cause pain and heartache for those who did not achieve it. Or maybe they could have chosen the divers in the competition who were the very worst, and give them their medals. That is what Jesus would do. People who publicly use Christ the way “winners” like this did are merely using a faux religious air to draw attention to themselves.
    “Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” – Jesus

  • I watched the video and it’s the same tired old Pharisees touting how religious they are. And making self-important videos like that instead being busy in their kitchen feeding the poor, giving up their bed to the homeless and giving all their money to the poor. Which is what Jesus instructed His followers to do. How many hungry children could have been fed for the price of the equipment that video was produced on? You cannot make *any* argument (that is not faux) telling others how to live or what to say without being a hypocrite. You pretend to be a Christian and yet hold your “intellectual” nose so high in the air that you’d drown if it were to rain.

  • I’m using an established standard for capriciousness. Do you know any other definition of the word?

  • I used your own words and the accepted definition of the word “capricious” to show god’s capricious nature. When you disputed the definition of “capricious” I invited you to offer another definition. You have not.

    What I’m gathering from your comments is that maybe god is capricious, and you’re okay with that, but you feel there are other characteristics of god that are consistent. Is that accurate?

  • You are the one who initiated the argument with the word “capricious.”

    “You could call him capricious, but to set that standard as being the one by which the existence of God is proven or disproven is infact arbitrary. Do you have some more consistent referent by which to establish the standard than your own opinion?”

    I was never arguing about god’s existence. I’ve been trying to discuss theodicy as commenters here understand it. I’ve been consistent about that. A random or capricious god means the search for an understanding of god’s nature is futile and that trust is not possible, other than a hope that the hammer doesn’t fall on you. That’s no different than hoping you’re not in the car a distracted driver veers into.

    Look, I’ve spent 2 days on this, and that’s enough. I have learned many things about how you and Richard feel about theodicy and your faith and I appreciate that. Thank you.

  • Borrows its morality from the Christian worldview? – No – the morality predates the attempt by Christianity to claim and subvert it.

    …doesn’t want to be accountable to the Christian god? – the Christian god is no more real than Thor, Sol or Ra. Why would anyone want to be accountable to a fiction?

    I prefer “Do as you will and it harm no-one” to “do unto others as you would have done unto you” – but the main point is that I take responsibility for my moral decisions rather than dip out by following a set of rules that suit me but can be blamed on some imaginary deity. And who is the arbiter – society is, its not a perfect solution but its better than a dictatorship which pretends to be a theocracy.

  • Wrong – I have a bias against the presentation of lies as truth, the pretence of hope for a glorious future to encourage acceptance of a miserable present and the diversion of time, monies and effort from supporting family and friends to the benefit of parasitic liars with a self-serving agenda which is damaging to individual human beings, society and future generations.

  • We all have different paths in this life. Sometimes bad things happen to good people because someone else (or they) made a bad choice. God gives us our agency. Sometimes we don’t know why. But through it all we gain experience, one of the reasons we’re here. The good thing is knowing that death is not the end, and we should strive to be Christ-like and caring if others while we’re here.

  • You people need to open your eyes. These two boys are gay as blazes. All of the public wearing of their conservative brand of religion on their sleeves is very much designed to distract from and deny that fact, both to others and probably even to themselves. Not that it isn’t possible to be both affirmatively gay and religiously devout. But that’s not what’s happening here. Here, one part of their identity is being consciously and conspicuously emphasized in order to de-emphasize the other.

  • I don’t think the pandering is unintentional at all. It’s very much part of a well thought out marketing strategy. If you’ve got the gays talking about it, you’ve tapped into what is well known to be an indicator of a cultural zeitgeist. If you’ve got the gays buzzing about it, then you’ve got the media and Hollywood buzzing about it, and then you can sit back and rake in the advertising and endorsements cash. The wink wink to religion and midwestern wholesomeness is another part of the strategy, to make sure the teenage girls — another key marketing cash trove — stay tuned in.

  • Don’t let people bring you down. Rise above. Keep people that are negative out of your life; they are poison. Be positive, be honest, and enjoy the breath that the Almighty has given you. Amen. [email protected]

  • Bitch, you is nuts! Both these dudes are butt buddies. You is crazy, baby. You is so cray cray.

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