Penalty Flag

It’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words.

For this Minnesota Vikings fan, the two pictures I saw recently were worth at least that many. And no small number of them were cuss words.

No worries. I didn’t say anything. Not out loud, anyway.

I was hanging out with my daughters at The Main Event. After the bowling and arcade games I was in the redemption store where one cashes in their tickets and points earned. In the corner of the store, within one matted frame were two 8×10 black and white photographs. The inscribed pewter plate read, “The Hail Mary Pass” – December 28, 1975″

The first picture: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach unleashing a desperation pass in the face of the fierce rush of the Minnesota Vikings Purple People Eaters defense.

The second picture: Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson with arms outstretched. Waiting for the pass? Yes. But those arms were outstretched because he just finished pushing off on Viking defensive back Nate Wright, also in the picture, on his way to a face plant into the frozen turf.

The most offensive of offensive pass interference in the history of football.

For Vikings fans, there’s no need for a third picture. The nightmare image is laser burned into our memory. Drew Pearson, carrying the ball on his hip into the end zone like a kid caught with both hands in the cookie jar. He was looking over his shoulder for the flag that he and everyone at Metropolitan Stadium and everyone in the national television audience knew was coming.

The penalty flag he deserved.

The penalty flag that never came.

The biggest no-call in the history of Vikings football.

I’ve seen plenty of pictures of that game. But these two poured ink in my wound. They were autographed. Roger Staubach with a Sharpie attesting to his dumb luck and Drew Pearson signing a photographic confession of his guilt.

That Pearson later admitted he shoved his opponent down is of no comfort. Instead of going home to cry in their Texas-sized pillows like they should have, the Cowboys advanced in the playoffs while my worthy Viking heroes were deprived of their victory.

In talking with my friend Ed about my feelings on this travesty I said, “I think my tombstone is going to read, “Drew Pearson pushed”.

Though you don’t want to say it around longsuffering Minnesota Vikings fans, football is just a game. What happens when the penalty flags don’t get thrown in real life?

What happens when the money that is owed to you in a business transaction never comes because someone schemed and connived to steal it from you?

What happens when the promotion you have earned by hard work, education, achievement and proven track record is given to someone else…because they have the “right” last name?

What do you do when the person whose criminal actions do harm to your loved ones, yet they walk on a legal technicality?

What happens when someone purposely and falsely damages your reputation in order to prop up their own image?

It’s natural to be infuriated by the injustice. Where’s the flag? Somebody throw the flag!

But the flag never comes.

Worse, there appears to be no attitude of contrition on the part of the offender. It’s as if they have no conscience. God’s Word talks about this. Psalm 10:4 says, “The wicked man is so arrogant he always thinks, “God won’t hold me accountable; He doesn’t care.” It’s that lack of accountability that makes us crazy for justice. We want the price to be paid and we want to see everything made right. And we want to see it made right …right now.

The difficult truth is that God doesn’t settle His accounts immediately. How we wish that He would. But He doesn’t. Will He eventually? Absolutely. God is a God of perfect justice. His character will not allow Him to ignore wrongs done. The day will come when every wrong done, big or small, will be made right. We can rely on God’s perfection for that.

The difference between us and God in matters of payback is that while we would punish the offender out of anger, God will judge fairly from His perfect justice. It’s impossible for you and I to equally possess opposite character qualities without compromising one or the other. As fallen human beings, We can’t be perfectly loving and perfectly angry at the same time. Something’s gotta give. In His time, however, God will judge our offender with perfect justice without compromising the perfect love He has for that person.

So what to do while we wait for that day?

Resist the urge to play mental games of retribution. While there are momentary pleasures in contemplating the many possibilities of the word “smite” with regard to our enemy (e.g. Steinway pianos falling from the sky onto their head, etc) it’s best we leave that to God. In fact, it’s best for us to just plain “make room for God”. Among the most difficult acts of our will is to trust God with the judgment of those who have greatly damaged us. Yet God honors our yielding to Him with a peace that passes understanding. Someone bigger and infinitely more qualified will settle the account. We can forgive and go forward, knowing that God will someday make everything right.

Understand, “making room for God” is an ongoing process. Drew Pearson pushed off 34 years ago. It still makes me nuts to think about. And that was only a football game. Imagine our conversations with God regarding the deep wounds inflicted on us by another. We never get used to injustice in our lives. Yet making room for God makes it possible for us to live the abundant and abiding life He desires for us.

Stop looking for the flag.

Make room for God.

Then live in the space you made.

God will take care of your enemies.

“Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written,  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”

– Romans 12:19

Todd A. Thompson – November 24, 2009

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