Today, 27 September 2012, ESPN and other news outlets announced that the NFL and the NFLRA (NFL Referees Association) have agreed to discontinue use of Replacement Officials. For those of you who’ve been watching the NFL these past three weeks, you know what this agreement means: the merciful end of terrible calls, one of which clearly determined the outcome of one game (Packers’ faithful are still seething).
You would think that something nonessential (essentials being players and coaches) would not be all that important, but the past three weeks have shown what happens when players and coaches “play”/“work” within rules that may not be strictly enforced because the persons called to enforce those rules either do not know the rules well enough or those persons are overwhelmed in some way. Many a commentator of NFL games observed that more than a few players pushed the limits of unfair play to see what they could get away with. In addition, one could see NFL coaches on the sidelines yelling and getting in the face of Replacement Referees to intimidate them into giving favorable calls. All in all, these games felt (to us viewers) a bit ragged, chaotic, and unpredictable because of the absence of qualified officials who are respected by players and coaches.
Now when the news hit that the Regular Referees will resume this week, the universal reaction from NFL players was one of “relief and joy.” Torrey Smith, a wide receiver of the Baltimore Ravens tweeted, “Woke up to find out new refs are back! I’ve never been excited about refs before I think I might give the first one I see a bear hug haha.” Under normal circumstances this type of reaction from a player about referees almost never takes place; under sub-normal circumstances, of course, the reaction is understandable.
These events and reactions got me to thinking … theologically thinking … about the comfort, relief, and joy associated with the notion of Judgment as the righting of wrongs, of adjudicating with justice and truth. One usually does not associate Judgment with consoling emotions like comfort, relief, or joy. In polite company most of us will steer clear away from any talk of Judgment or Christ-as-Judge because we know what many in our culture think of these terms – add: fire and brimstone, cringing fear – as bygone remnants of ugly, unsophisticated fundamentalist faith. But this association with fear is not a complete picture. The other side of Judgment or Christ-as-Judge is the triumph of God’s justice over evils. Yes, there is a fearful side to Judgment (and so we pray for God’s mercy as well, especially for ourselves knowing our own fallenness). But the dominant biblical picture of Judgment is not the Vindictive God who’s fed up with all the sins and evils in the world, who’ll settle scores in no uncertain terms. The big picture is the God of Justice who will right wrongs, vindicate His Cause, uplift His people, and remake our present reality into a new heavens and a new earth.
I’m certain that these reflections about NFL Replacement Refs and Judgment will not figure into any argument for the existence of a just God. Aquinas’ Five Ways for God’s Existence is safe. Nevertheless, even something entirely based on entertainment and sports can point toward the comfort, relief, and joy of an ultimate Justice.