I’ve received a number of great topics so far to address in the upcoming weeks (please keep sending in the “Pastor I Always Wanted to Know” life questions), but I’m not ready to stop sifting through our culture’s craziness yet, not with stories like this one still floating around.
On Sunday the Buffalo Bills faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL contest with relatively little significance. Nonetheless, both teams fought hard and the game went into overtime. With what could have brought the game to an end, a pass was thrown to Buffalo wide receiver Steve Johnson in the end zone. However, Johnson let a fairly routine, “easy” catch slip through his fingers. Instead of Buffalo defeating the heavily favored Steelers, Pittsburgh got the ball back, drove down the field, and kicked a field goal for the overtime win.
After the game, Johnson was clearly distraught over his mistake, as anyone would be. But hey, even professionals make honest mistakes. Johnson’s next move is what is going to make this so memorable. 5:15pm that evening, the 24-year-old Johnson tweeted from his iPad:
As a pastor, you sometimes warn people about the temptation to blame God, but humans typically do it in subtle ways. We complain about our circumstances. We think we deserve better. We wish things would have turned out differently. But you don’t truly believe anyone is going to have the audacity to actually shake a finger at God. And then here comes Steve Johnson, using the venue of the modern man’s stream-of-consciousness media: Twitter. And all the world gets to see a great reminder of how spiritually backwards we humans can truly be. And even though it was a fairly high-profile professional athlete like Steve Johnson who tweeted it, let’s be fair, we’ve all thought/felt it – “God, how could you let this happen to me?”
The arrogance behind Johnson’s rant runs as deep in humanity as the first sin, or what you perhaps might call the second sin. As God came down to speak with Adam and Eve after their fall and asked them if they had eaten from the forbidden tree, he turns for explanation to the one he’d established to be a responsible spiritual leader – the man. And what was Adam’s response? “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Gen 3:12) Unbelievable, isn’t it?! The same woman whom Adam had longed for in his inmost being. The same woman who made him complete. The same woman who shared Adam’s very own DNA as she was taken from him. Adam blames her. And not only that, he blames the God who was generous enough to give her to him. We humans are straight up nuts.
A child could listen to Steve Johnson’s comments from Sunday and say he must be insane. Targeted with 15 passes on Sunday, Johnson only caught 7. At least 3 of the incompletions were obvious drops – completely his own fault. Call it an off day. More accurately, call it not concentrating on looking the ball into your hands or any of a number of fundamental errors that Johnson was making that day. But to pin this one on God is insanity.
Wait just a second though. Just to humor him, let’s hypothetically say that God did cause Johnson to drop this ball – after all, he controls the wind and the waves – maybe he blew the football out of Johnson’s hands at the last millisecond. But the week earlier, Johnson had caught 3 touchdown passes in an impressive win over Cincinnati. Where was the Twitter rant about God’s grace and abundant blessing? Instead, Johnson celebrated in disrespectful enough fashion that the NFL fined him for his touchdown celebration.
You see, this is what happens when someone who clearly has no desire for studying how God operates, questions how God operates. And in the same way that one wonders why Hollywood actors and Top 40 musicians think we want their opinion on politics, it’s clearly silly to take any spiritual cues from an obnoxious professional athlete.
I feel sorry for him and I’m interested in seeing how he recovers from this, but plain and simple, Johnson is dead wrong here. The case with 99% of the misfortunes in our lives is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. In all likelihood, that’s what we’re looking at here with his bad day. However, as mentioned, even if God chose to intervene in this game by “causing” Steve Johnson to have a bad day, Johnson makes the false assumption that God shouldn’t do that because, after all, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!” Not only is that inaccurate (publicly so after last week’s fined celebrations and this week’s Twitter debacle), but it’s also foolish – as though God, overwhelmed by our great love, is obligated to provide us with special favors.
I just finished reading through the Old Testament book of Job again in my daily devotions. I’ve often thought the middle 90% of the book to be a difficult read – chapter after chapter of extended dialogue. This time I read it in a different version (i.e. not the NIV), and it became much clearer. After losing virtually every good thing in his life, the arguments of Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, seem like good, conventional wisdom. Although unable to identify the sin they believe he must have committed, the friends remain unwavering in their belief that Job’s misfortune is the result of some grievous sin. Their theology assumes that God always rewards good and punishes evil. And they refuse to allow for any divine discretion or mystery on God’s part – that maybe, just maybe, God may choose allow pain in order to accomplish a greater good.
After a visit from a younger, and more sensible friend named Elihu, God puts Job in his place. He says: 1I am the LORD All-Powerful,2but you have argued that I am wrong. Now you must answer me. 3Job said to the LORD: 4Who am I to answer you? 5I did speak once or twice, but never again. 6Then out of the storm the LORD said to Job: 7Face me and answer the questions I ask! 8Are you trying to prove that you are innocent by accusing me of injustice? 9Do you have a powerful arm and a thundering voice that compare with mine? 10If so, then surround yourself with glory and majesty. 11Show your furious anger! Throw down and crush 12all who are proud and evil. 13Wrap them in grave clothes and bury them together in the dusty soil. 14Do this, and I will agree that you have won this argument. (Job 40:1-14 CEV)
The lesson in all of this is that questioning an all-knowing God’s operation (and even blaming him for our problems!) is never the answer, nor a healthy outlet. In the Old Testament, that kind of open rebellion to God often ended in lightning bolts and the earth swallowing the wicked and deadly diseases (cf. Lev 10:1-2, Num 16:1-50, Num 25:1-13). With the New Covenant in our Savior Jesus, God reacts a little differently to our transgressions………what some might describe as more “patiently.” So, I don’t expect God to reach a hand through Steve Johnson’s iPad and deliver a whooping. However, there are still consequences to spiritual rebellion like questioning and blaming God. It will invariably lead us into looking like fools. It will make us feel smaller and more alone than ever. And it will offend a God who loved us enough to redeem us from ever having to worry about the failed circumstances of life.
You will drop the ball at some point. This isn’t God failing you. It’s a reminder that you’re fragile and need a God that will NEVER fail you. Your Bible and your Church will remind you that you indeed have that God.