Thursday, August 11, 2005

The One True Ref

Canada's sports website TSN reminds readers that there are only "55 days 'till the puck drops." Whoohooo!
Along with the constant news of trades and player acquisitions as managers attempt to fine tune their teams with the new budgets, comes a follow-up story to a nasty incident from the last full season:

"Former Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore said he was surprised when Todd Bertuzzi was reinstated to the NHL after delivering a blindside punch 17 months ago that broke his neck and left his hockey future in doubt."

Now hockey is a sport known for its roughness, so Bertuzzi's aggressive act, while hardly commendable, was not exactly a one-time occurrence in the NHL. To it's credit, the NHL used this grisly event as a platform to say "let's clean up the game."
As a matter of fact, despite the fights (both dirty and clean), the game of hockey could not be played without some semblance of order. Like any sport, the game has clear rules involving game play and conduct. Those who transgress are punished accordingly, receiving a penalty. During the penalty, the player is publicly isolated and "shamed" in the "sin-bin" for a certain length of time, which gives his teammates the temporary difficulty of being a man short.
This is not too far removed from how we treat infractions in the real world, right? Let me stretch the comparison a little more, if I may.

  • The penalty only happens if the offending player is caught/seen by the officials. Many a booing crowd are simply expressing outrage that justice has gone unpunished.
  • All the players know the rules, but there is a clear spectrum of seriousness to the range of infractions. Most would agree that beating up the ref is unacceptable, but minor infractions like "icing the puck" are sometimes mere annoyances. If all players had to follow every rule 100% of the time, it would be difficult to play the game. Kind of like our society, that says, "Hey, I know the speed limit is 55, but hey, I'm late for work here. Let's 'get real'."
  • Without the rules, the game would simply become a death sport. Nothing would stop players from impaling each other with sharpened sticks. I'm not saying most players would embrace such gore if it weren't actively disallowed, but who knows?
So how is all this relevant to the goal of this blog?

Point A - rules are not designed to kill off fun, but to protect the individual and society. Truly, God knows that the best games happen when nobody breaks the rules. Clean play results in a display of true athletic ability, which I daresay would be as much fun (if not more) to watch than mere slugfests.

Point B - the rules themselves, be they the 10 commandments, or sports rules, are logical, and easily understood by each player as necessary. In his book "Mere Christianity," C.S. Lewis suggested that everyone intuitively "knows the law." He demonstrated that, when we are caught breaking any law, we automatically defend our behavior by trying to show the extenuating circumstances that made it necessary - just this one time- to stretch the rules.
This is no different in hockey. No player who's had the whistle blown at him says: "Hey, FORGET that stupid rule. I make my own rules!" No, he has already agreed, before lacing up the skates, what the rules of the game are. Instead, the hockey player defends with: "I couldn't help it/it was an accident/I'm simply getting him back for the bad thing he did to our team that you didn't call/it's an intense game right near the end, so ease up on the rules." In other words, the validity of the rule itself is unquestioned. The only defense is to attempt to convince the referee that you didn't "really" break the law.

Some refs are more lenient than others, but no ref can completely disregard the rules of the game and keep his job. Both teams would be screaming blue murder, and demand a "fairer" judge.

Nobody respects a corrupt judge.

What would happen if a 100% play-it-by-the-book ref were to skate on the ice? A ref that demanded penalties for EVERY infraction, slight or great. A ref that had eyes everywhere, and saw every infraction. How about a ref that knows you're going to be guilty of high-sticking before the game even starts?
In real life, it wouldn't take long before the players, the coaches, the crowds in the stands, and even people watching on TV would be saying: "Who's this guy? What gives him the right to be calling every little infraction? Isn't this Joe Shmoe from Medicine Hat, the simple skate-sharpener?"
Rather quickly, Joe the ref's credibility would be questioned. Everyone would break out the NHL rule book, and line up for a chance to show Joe that he's wrong. The only problem is, nobody could do it. Joe is always right. This would just make most people even more angry, and they'd start crying for a new ref. "Get that guy off the ice," they'd yell, "We can follow the rules without Him. As a matter of fact, we've been following the rules just fine until He came along."
As Christians, we believe the extreme claims of our Joe. Joe said that He wrote the rule book. Not only that, he claims to have built all the hockey sticks, the ice, the seats in the stands, the stands, the ground the stadium sits on, and every kernel of popcorn you're munching as you watch the game Joe invented.
This, obviously, is where believers and non-believers part ways. However, rather than attempt to prove why Christians believe that Joe (the God of the Bible) DID create all those things (thus having the right to write/enforce the rules), let's just focus on ONE aspect of why people don't like Referee Joe.
The fact is, everyone playing this hockey game called life LIKES PLAYING DIRTY. Some of us are big goons, others will trip other skaters when they think no one is looking, and another group are experts at making a big deal out of a valid hip- check, diving to the ice in mock pain to get a penalty called.
I know that's a hard pill to swallow, yet that's what the Bible says. The only consolation to the fact that you are a sinner is that you are not alone.
Joe, the One True Ref, has stated the rules of the game, and expressed an intention to judge every player by those rules. Many players didn't like this plan, and decided to look for another ref, despite the fact that Joe's record was impeccable.
Many said: "O.K., I will follow the rule book perfectly." Surprise surpise, they failed miserably, DESPITE their best intentions.
Ref Joe, however, was not surprised at this failure. As a matter of fact, if you read the rule book carefully, you'll see that He KNEW the rules were impossible for this group of players. Ever since the first couple on the ice disregarded Ref Joe's first rule, the entire ice, and all subsequent players have been tainted, and INCAPABLE of playing a clean game.
This is where Christianity is often misunderstood. Dirty players don't want to admit that they like to play dirty, and even if they ARE willing to admit it, they don't want to give up the game they've been playing. But, rather than looking at their true motivation (of liking dirty play, and being unwilling to learn to play clean), it's easier to live with your "bad self" by insisting that Joe is NOT the Ultimate Ref, and His rule book doesn't apply!
This does not describe EVERY person's objection to the God of the Bible, but it IS a big one. It's understandable, if you don't have all the facts.
The Good News essentially tells us that Ref Joe knows we are incapable of playing clean. Fortunately, there is a solution offered. No, He will not overlook the penalties, but He will provide a player to take your place in the penalty box (by the way, they really do call it the sin bin).
But how, we ask, is it fair for someone to take my punishment? Well, even in hockey, it's not uncommon for one player to take the penalty for another player. Interestingly, it would not be fair for the team's poorest player to take the penalty for the team's captain. Nor would it be fair the other way around. The punishment, as it goes, must fit the crime.
OK, so now imagine Ref Joe says that He has provided one player, who will take the penalties of EVERY player who's ever played the game, for every game that ever has, or ever will be played. To be fair, would this substitute player not need to be perfect? I mean, He's taking EVERY penalty that EVER WAS, or WILL BE! Could anyone less than Wayne Gretzky take this role? Wait a minute. Ref Joe says the only player who could take all these combined penalties MUST BE PERFECT. This puts Gretzky out, because with all due respect, he had an NHL career total of 577 penalty minutes. Sorry Wayne, love ya, but you're out of the running.
Not only that, Ref Joe insists that the ultimate penalty taker (scapegoat) must have played the game, with all it's temptations and opportunities to play dirty.
But wait a minute, Ref Joe already said that no one is capable of playing clean.?
That's why no one, except God Himself, could sit in the penalty box for every player that's ever played. Yes, Jesus was a player (human), and He did play a 100% clean game EVERY TIME. Thus, God Himself, in the figure of His perfect Son, stepped in to the penalty box. This analogy breaks down here, since a trip to the penalty box in NO WAY covers the magnitude of what Jesus went through to take our punishment. If you want a better understanding of that, may I suggest watching the Passion movie. Apparently, even that was probably tame compared to the real event.
So then, if Jesus already went to the penalty box for every player's sin, does that mean we can now play dirty? Well, I suppose one could, but it would make observers wonder if you really understood the magnitude of what was done for you. The rule book has not changed - it has been made powerless since the penalties have been paid.
Jesus wants us back in the game, with full knowledge of how he has already paid every penalty. Our goal now, is to let every other player know what He has done for us. Meantime, TRYING not to deliberately sin shows gratitude and appreciation for your freedom.
Something I have to be continually reminded about is that I can't make any progress learning to play clean without focusing on Jesus. It's already been proven to me that I can't play that way on my own. Some day, in heaven, we'll all play a sinless "game," but for now, the only progress to be had seems to come as a byproduct of:
  1. Sharing the Gospel
  2. Watching and studying the replays of Jesus' career (sinless life)
  3. Praising Jesus as the One True Ref, creator of everything, and source of all life.
Sadly, the Bible is clear that many will reject the authority, messages, and even existence of this One True Ref. Many will claim ignorance of the rule book, and the Ref, on the day He rolls the replays of their life.

Romans 1:20 states:

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."

This suggests to me that God and His rule can be seen in EVERYTHING. Even hockey. Maybe I'm just a crazy canuck making a real stretch to show the Gospel through the analogy of hockey penalties. Go ahead and blow the whistle on me for using such a loose example. I don't mind.
I encourage you, however, to read the Bible for yourself to explore your reaction. It's true that there are many rule books to this sport we call life, and just as many self-appointed refs. They can't all be right. Read all the rule books if you must. I believe the TRUTH will be evident.
Like hockey, life IS a battle. There is a spiritual battle being fought for each of our very souls. Unlike hockey, life is no game. If Jesus, as He claims in John 14:6, IS the Way, the Truth and the Life, and you reject his offer of taking your place in the penalty box, you've left the righteous Ref with no alternative but to let YOU take the punishment for your sins. If the Bible is correct, there won't be much ice near that eternal penelty box. Why not say "Thank you Jesus" today.
Enjoy the new hockey season. By the grace of the Father, in Jesus name, may you never view another game quite the same.

No comments: