By now I suspect you have all heard the story about wide receiver Steve Johnson dropping the ball in the end zone. Johnson had the opportunity to give the Buffalo Bills one of their sweetest victories — an unexpected win against the Steelers in overtime.
Instead the 24-year-old dropped the ball.
My husband, whose passion for sports knows no boundaries, could be heard screaming in Trenton, N. J. We live in Oregon. I know one of these days I’m going to be kneeling over his body as paramedics arrive to treat Tim for an ESPN-induced stroke. You know that fellow in Alabama who shot his TV because he didn’t like Bristol Palin’s dancing? If we had guns in the house I’m pretty sure Tim would have shot somebody on ESPN by now, which is why I don’t agree with the NRA about the best way to protect oneself is to own guns. I think owning guns is the most likely way to end up in prison for acts of stupidity.
Steve Johnson said himself that he will never ever get over dropping that pass. No matter how long he lives, no matter how many winning touchdown passes he caught before this one, or how many he’ll catch after this one, his obit is going to mention that dadgum dropped ball.
Johnson will be living with my biggest fear, that people will always remember me for the way I messed up and not the efforts I made to do the right thing. So, sports fanatics aside, my heart went out to the kid. I was especially troubled for him when I heard about the Tweet he sent out after the game:
I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!” the 24-year-old tweeted from his iPad at around 5:15 Sunday after the Steelers’ 19-16 overtime victory. “AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
Johnson sent that message to God.
God has an iPhone?
The dangerous thing about Twitter is that it is too often used as a recording tool for stream of consciousness. But I am not sure God ever intended us to make all our conscious thoughts visible. If that was his intention, wouldn’t he have given us those bubbles over our heads the comic strip folks give us? That way we could just go around reading each other’s bubble. We wouldn’t need an iPhone.
Bloggers and columnists and talking heads across the country are on a full-blown rant, chastising Johnson for blaming God for his dropping the winning touchdown. One commentator noted that God has “unfollowed” Johnson. CNN ran a spoof about Johnson by highlighting that appalling moment when Kathy Griffin raises her Emmy heavenward and yells, “Suck it Jesus, this award is my god now.”
That takes some kind of arrogance to blame God when we fail. Or in Kathy’s case win. But win or lose, wrongheaded thinking is behind it all. It’s the result of exalting ourselves above God. We treat God as if he’s a Genie-in-the-Bottle we found. He owes us.
Kathy Griffin’s remarks are so offensive I seriously don’t want to stand within a football field of that woman. My granny would say that girl is going to get her comeuppance one day. People laugh at Kathy because they assume it takes one ballsy woman to call God out like that. Frankly, I don’t find that sort of arrogance courageous at all. I find it to be nothing more than gussied up idolatry. I wish Kathy well on that face to face meeting with God.
While Johnson wasn’t as crass towards God as Kathy Griffin and her potty-mouth, the deception that compelled him to blame God is just the flip-side of the same coin. It’s an arrogance ingrained in Americans, nurtured along by a corrupt theology touted by Sunday School teachers, camp leaders, Bible school professors, misguided preachers, self-serving politicians and toothy authors.
That theology is one that says as long as we work hard, live rightly and remember to thank God for the wins, we’ll keep winning. So sure are we that this theology works, we’ve built a nation upon it. And many have built a mega-fortune on dispensing a gospel message that says God’s sole intent is to reward us:
You ought to wake up every morning expecting the favor of God on your life, they tell us. Work hard and you’ll reap the fruits of your labor. God wants to bless you. We have to open our hearts (and usually pocketbooks) to receive all the abundance God has for us. The blessings of the Lord brings wealth. Lazy hands make a man poor but diligent hands bring about wealth. It is noble to seek after wealth. Only a foolish man remains poor.
It’s a wonderful theology for the haves who are encouraged to believe that everything they have is the result of their own hard work and effort. It makes it easier for such people to look down on those without and to say, “Well, they don’t work as hard as me. I deserve all the good and goods that I get.”
When we catch the ball and win the game and are lauded like Kings, it’s easy enough to raise the trophy high and tell the world, “God has blessed me. Thank you God. I owe it all to you.”
But for the have nots, such a theology is a coal heap of condemnation. When we fumble the ball and fanatics the world over mock our failure, this kind of theology leaves us feeling both guilty and angry. That’s why Johnson said, “I will never get over this. Ever.” Even if he could forgive himself, 6.7 million armchair quarterbacks are going to mock the 24-year-old kid for decades to come.
He can’t forgive himself because Johnson’s theology, shared by so many of us, teaches him that failure is a result of two things — some sin on his behalf, and/or the withdrawal of God’s favor on his life.
This theology of God-in-the-Genie-Bottle works just great as long as everything is going our way, but in that moment when we lose our home, our job, our spouse, our kid, or the winning touchdown, we often find that the God we once worshipped is nothing more than an image crafted from smoke.
Is it any wonder that we rail against such a God?