This how you do me, God?

This how you do me, God? November 30, 2010

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?

God tweets?

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?




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  • Read about this last night. Glad you commented about this. Well, actually, I hoped you would. It made me think about you and the whole “God is a genie” mentality. Amen sister!

  • P.S. I guess I won’t give Tim that assault rifle I had picked out for him for Christmas. The ties that bind – faith and firearms. LOL!

  • I felt for the guy, too. He’s getting mocked a lot, and some of the criticisms are along the lines of “it’s just a game.” Such criticisms are very ignorant. Catching a ball is what this guy was hired to do. It’s his living. I get upset when things I try to do at my job don’t go well. Doesn’t matter if your job is a plumber, programmer, pastor, doctor, or athlete.
    In the case of an athlete, a failure on the job is witnessed by millions of people. To this day, athletes like Leon Lett, Bill Buckner, and Robin Ventura, who should be known for having great careers, are instead known for one bad moment. They’re regarded as failures despite being better at what they do that 99.9% of people who judge their performance and assess their worthiness.
    My hope for Johnson is that he will have a game where he does something really well, and alters the way people think about him. And my other hope is that he will see God as He really is.

    • Wanda

      Well said JamesW, last two sentences especially.

      Say that prayer for me, for all of us, that we will seek, see, and know God as he really is. Good stuff.

      GREAT POST, Karen!!

  • Robert

    Pastoring a small country church, you have stirred the strings of the congregation I am attempting to equip. Most will pray desperatley during the tough times wondering why God does not answer them as they wish. Most will forget God when the abundance is before them. We only give so we can retrieve in this life, but when we don’t get… we voice our angst foolishly and loudly. Oh, that our prayers were more honest and transparent with God rather than men. “Have mercy on me, Oh God.” Be blessed Karen…

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Robert, and thank you for serving others in those times when they feel that God has abandoned them. It’s what we are foolishly taught and up until that moment of crisis we have no reason to question it. And of course this is a theology that goes far beyond the church community. It’s purported by Wall Street and self-help books and gurus of all sorts. You don’t have to be a believer to buy into this theology.

  • Scott Eaton

    This is a great post, Karen. The prosperity “gospel” is so insidious and destructive to our souls. It absolutely perverts the truth of who God is and who we are before Him. Unfortunately, this kind of theology isn’t just found in the church and books of Joel Osteen. I think it permeates much (perhaps most?) of evangelical Christianity.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Scott, premeates most of society period, I think.

      • Scott Eaton

        Good point. I think you’re right.

  • The crux of the matter is stated succinctly by Rob Bell in his short film “Rich”. Says Bell, we rich folk regularly fall into the trap of thinking that our world is THE world. Professional sports and nearly all college sports these days are almost entirely about one thing: money. Under the thin camouflage of fame, mascots and team colors, huge sums of money change hands, enormous amounts of time are wasted and people get used, used up and come out with all kinds of warped values. Play sports for the activity, the exercise, for love, the whole population. Take away the money, please! Again to quote Rob Bell (short film “Open”), “Don’t ask God to feed a hungry person if you have plenty of food.” Something to ponder as yet another SuperBowl Sunday barrels at us in a few weeks. The money that will change hands on and because of that day could put every family and household in Haiti in brand new housing with sanitation, water and solar power and build businesses and farms for them to work at. But we’d rather pay attention to the playhouse kingdom of Man than to the real kingdom of God. The former is where the money is.

    • This man’s frustration has nothing to do with money. We all are tempted to blame God when things don’t go well for us. This man’s frustration happens to be public because he plays football.
      I have never received a dime for playing sports, but have felt his same frustration when my softball team, or the kids’ baseball team that I coach, has had a heartbreaking loss, a dropped ball, or missed opportunity. In fact, I’ve had it outside of sports, as well.

      • Gloria

        Maybe Steve and the Boise State kicker should get together and talk. I heard that there have been 2000 death threats made against the kicker since their loss and he is in protective custody. Thanks for this post Karen I agree with everything you said!

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          That is just nutz, Gloria.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Of course, we could and have thrown money at Haiti, Roger, but the problems of corruption and greed aren’t limited to just our people. We have no jurisdiction over Haiti so solving their problems is a bigger issue than just forgoing a Superbowl. Heck, we’re having a difficult enough time caring for our own poor.

  • Stacy Sears

    That is the exact position I was sitting in after slipping on a wet tile floor,and throwing my older brother’s Thanksgiving turkey in the air on the way TO the dining table. I’m 53, it wasn’t pretty. But the devastation, embarrassment, and suicidal thoughts soon faded when I saw that I had not broken my neck, as my mother was sure I would do, and I had given my family a memory they would bend over laughing at for many a year. As my brother said the blessing over the meal, he thanked God for me not being broken in pieces, something he tried to achieve himself as a kid. I found a joy in the disaster I had created. By blaming God for not letting him catch the football, this poor fellow blew away all chances of being a witness to God’s goodness. Basically, he was mad ’cause he wouldn’t be the hero. You were correct in saying his God was one of smoke, blown away in a twitter, of all things. I hope he finds his way, poor guy.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Stacy: So glad you didn’t break any bones. And how gracious of your brother to want to protect you all these years later. I think your brother and mine have a lot in common that way. 🙂 But yes, you are right, Johnson blew his chance at winning the game and winning a victory otherwise. Still, I think it’s important to note that his actions have stirred up a lot of conversation, good conversation, about how we view God. Of course, the blogging community is just hateful sometimes and I hope that Johnson doesn’t read the comments about him. I don’t know how the emotional health a young man holds up to that kind of stress. James is right that this is more than just a game to this kid — this is what he is hired to do and he failed to do his job in front of millions. I know how devastated I’d be. We need to be praying for this young man.

  • Diane

    Great post…I don’t think the issue is so much his failure to catch that ball, and yes that’s a problem if you get paid to do that….but the problem is his ranting at God as though he felt God owed it to him to allow him to catch it.

  • “toothy authors”…Snort! Sorry, had to stop at that point and laugh.

    Yes. You’re right.”Bless me God Bless ME!” Very few of us are Job or Paul. I think I’m much more like Jonah.