Scheduling a concert during the Western conference basketball playoffs seemed plain wrong, but I had to go. My in-laws were singing and, since we were their houseguests, I figured it would be rude for me to stay home.
So, while the choir did their warm-up exercises inside the church, I sat in the parking lot — relegated to listening to the last quarter of play on the car radio. To anyone walking through the parking lot, my vocal affirmations for each Sacramento goal must have conjured up images of the famous restaurant scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Sally proved women are very skilled at faking their excitement.
Rooting for my favorite player, Mike Bibby, I screamed “Yes, Bibby, Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes!”
Truthfully, however, I don’t usually watch much basketball. I love to play basketball, not watch it. I’m not very good at it. My wife warns me a 44 year-old man is likely to get hurt on the basketball court, but so far, the only people who get hurt are the players who play near me.
It’s not that I’m aggressive, I just have no clue as to what I’m doing. I think it must be a rhythm thing. There should be a rule that says, “If you can’t trust the pastor with a tambourine on Sunday, don’t trust him with a basketball at the Friday night men’s fellowship.”
I’m the kind of guy who can only pray he can play. I cannot imagine what it would be like to get paid to play like the fellows who play for our hometown Sacramento Kings.
Yet, even if I were on the payroll, you could never pay me enough to take a humiliating elbow to the nose on nationwide TV like our man Bibby took Sunday night. I know I’m supposed to preach turning the other cheek, but I think I’d be tempted to plant my foot deep in my opponent’s southern-most cheek.
Despite the town being full of three-quarter of a million people screaming for justice, Bibby kept his cool in the final playoff game. With only seconds before the final buzzer, Bibby seemed to deliver justice with a tie shot, but alas, justice was denied in overtime.
I really wanted justice. I was looking for a storybook ending. It seemed like God should take advantage of this national audience and rain down justice to show the wrongdoers the error of their ways. It seemed like a Skywalker/Vader confrontation of monumental proportions, and vindication was demanded.
As I listened to the game, my expectations revealed some flaws in my theology. Were my expectations so misplaced I was actually hoping to see divine justice manifested in a mere sporting event? It had me asking, OK, where do I look for justice? To whom do I look? When can I expect it to come?
Can justice really be sought from the human frailty of referees? From man-made organizations like the NBA?
Individually, many of us are looking for justice in some area in which we have been wronged — a marriage, a friendship, a job or a financial dealing. Corporately, as a nation, many of us are looking for justice to be served on a platter with Osama’s head. Some of us seek justice in diplomacy, while others seek military justice imparted with graffiti-engraved smart bombs.
While I must warn you against finding your theology of justice on the tattooed bodies of sports players, Mike Bibby’s tattooed right calf raises an interesting point: “Only God Can Judge Me.”
It’s a Bible verse, but Bibby’s tattoo couldn’t quote the entire verse, (1 Cor. 4:4). Taken in context, the Apostle Paul is addressing a judgmental faction in the Corinthian church when he says his “conscious was clear, but that does not make me innocent.” Whether now or later, only God was qualified to be his judge.
Unfortunately, the verse, taken out of its context represents popular contemporary theology. It represents a prevalent thinking that professes judgment in all forms is wrong. The thought has become a flippant way of saying no person is fit to judge the actions of another.
When Paul said only God is fit to judge, he wasn’t saying he was above the laws of man. He was saying God was the only perfect judge, and to be judged by him was much more fearsome than to be judged by man. It was a principle that kept him in sight of his goal.
We, too, can keep better sight of our goal when we come to a place where we confess that, even when we are sure we are right, there will always be a place inside of us that is not right. The idea of God being a judge should not be a scary one when we take into account his judgments are always based on his love.
With a concert to attend, justice would have to look forward to “next time, next year.” I left the hot car and entered the church several songs late, smelling like I had played an interactive version of the championship. I nuzzled up to my wife, hoping she would not judge me too harshly for missing part of the concert. Unfortunately, in her judgment, I definitely needed some deodorant.