God-given mulligan

Sunday, December 12, 2010

For most things in life, there is no do-over. Human beings live on a linear timeline and for just about everything, there's no going back. Once something is done, it is done. With all rules, whether explicitly stated or commonly understood, there are exceptions.

In non-competitive golf, for example, it can be a courtesy to extend a player one mulligan per round. A mulligan is a one-time do-over, permitting a player who hit a ball into the woods or into another hazard an opportunity to erase that mistake by hitting a substitute. A mulligan allows an error to be obliterated from the score, as if it had never happened.

Steve Johnson could use a mulligan. Johnson is a talented wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. On Nov. 28, during an overtime game with my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson dropped the ball in the end zone. It would have given Buffalo an immediate (and shocking) victory. The pigskin just fell out of his mitts. After the contest, won by Pittsburgh, Johnson was inconsolable. Later, he posted a message on his Twitter page. It read:

"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? I'LL NEVER FORGET THIS!!! EVER!!! THX THO."

One thing is clear: Brother Johnson probably will not be securing employment in the English department of any reputable school.

His words unleashed a flood of criticism. The receiver was assailed for what was perceived as a churlish attack on God. Blaming the Almighty for fumbly fingers seems foolish. Yet, subject matter aside, Johnson's wail of complaint is not all that unlike Job's famous lament in the Old Testament. Clearly, old Job had much more to grouse about than a dropped football. Job's sons and daughters perished, his servants were slain, his livestock was destroyed and his own health became compromised. That's a whole bucketful of woe right there.

Job, egged on by his wife in particular, lets loose: "I will unstop my complaint and speak the bitterness within me. I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me.' But tell me what is your charge against me?" (Job 10:1-3a).

Steve Johnson is behaving like the Old Testament's poster boy for suffering but with a lot less reason.

If God had his own Twitter account, he might reply the way he answered Job: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man. I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." (Job 38:2-4).

Though for Twitter, he would have to shorten it to 140 characters.

Job admits his error and was found to "repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6). Perhaps Steve Johnson will have cause to reflect and change his tune. Yes, he could use a do-over -- a mulligan -- right about now.

Jesus, referred to in a hymn as the "love who came down at Christmas," gave all humanity a giant mulligan. A once-and-for-all do-over. When he died on the cross, he took our sins to the grave with him so that God would remember them no more. That's a divinely engineered, love-inspired mulligan. And the one who made us is not stingy about handing them out.

Steve Johnson, and all of us, should be reminded. Thanks be to God.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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