GOLF & GOD (9): Mulligans & Scorecards

“What did you get on that hole?”  the scorecard keeper asks.  Your answer may not be as simple as just counting up your strokes.  For many, this question immediately forces an ethical dilemma or sparks an internal wrestling match with one’s conscience.  Do I tell him the truth– that I got “a snowman” on the short par 3 — to keep a clean conscience?  Or is it better to save face and protect my ego with the guys, give a dishonest score and deal with the guilt later (when no one’s looking)?  Or, better, why don’t I just try harder, screw up less and always be sure to get a respectable score every time?  Like that’s possible.

Have you ever quit keeping score in the middle of a round?  What’s up with that?  Certainly that, too, is a defense mechanism to avoid the shame and humiliation that would come at the end of the round when you actually had to own up to your embarrassing score.

One spiritual mind exercise I occasionally engage in is to imagine Jesus along with me, taking part in a typical 21st century activity and seeing how he would act (e.g., Jesus in rush hour traffic, etc.).  Play along with me for a second.  What do you think it would be like golfing 18 holes at your favorite country club with Jesus (assume Jesus can get you free passes to any private dream course!)?  If you’re like me, you’re already wondering if Jesus would use his divine powers and ace every hole with 500+ yard drives, whether he would walk across the water to retrieve your water ball, etc.

Yet, the issue I want to focus on in this imaginative exercise has nothing to do with Jesus’ divine swing, putting perfection and the like.  Instead, I want you to ask yourself this question: What kind of scorecard keeper would Jesus be?  Would Jesus be a stickler for the rules, allowing no gimmes and keeping close record of every single penalty?  Remember, you’re probably not going to sneak anything by Jesus — like that secret “foot wedge” to get your ball away from that tree on # 12. Or, the classic litmus test to determine the gracious scorekeepers from the uptight, legalists:

Would Jesus allow mulligans?  

73704031RB173_The_Masters_F_7_05_28_PMDon’t rush to any conclusions in this mental exercise.  What kind of general mood and attitude does Jesus have in your imagination?  Is he a stern-faced, no-nonsense guy watching your golf etiquette like a hawk?  Is he aloof, too worried about his own game to even pay attention to your swing, to congratulate you on your birdie, or correct your mistakes?  Most importantly, how does he keep track of the score?  Does he seem to take great delight in keeping score and constantly reminding you of all your double bogies?

The reason I ask you to take your time in this exercise is that we all have our own perceptions of God and they powerfully influence how we relate to and understand our faith in and relationship with God.  And, frankly, far too many people have adopted the picture of God as a cranky, uptight scorekeeper in the sky, who takes much delight in counting our every penalty and cares very little about helping us improve “our game” and encouraging us to lighten up and enjoy the game.

So, what would it be like having Jesus in your next foursome?  Let me share five of my own thoughts on the matter:

1. Jesus is for you.  Jesus would be far more interested in seeing you succeed at golf, than keeping track of your every stroke.

2. Jesus is not a scorekeeper.  Jesus would gladly hold the scorecard, but only if you asked him too.  He’s not really into scorekeeping — just ask the Pharisees.  He’s a wise teacher and loving coach at heart, and devoted his entire life to relieving those carrying unnecessary burdens of guilt.

_40879660_scorecard2703.  Jesus knows the scorecard’s true purpose.  He would gently remind you that the scorecard’s purpose is to help show you just how far you’ve come in your game and how much room for growth and improvement you still have.  The scorecard is not a tool to be used to bring shame, humiliation and judgment upon oneself or others.  It gives us a standard, or par, to shoot for on the course and keeps track of past rounds only to give us a target to top next time.

4. Jesus gives unlimited mulligans. Since the score is not the most important thing, and enjoying the game and experiencing growth and improvement is, Jesus doesn’t mind if you re-tee and try again!  “Give it another try,” he says again and again with a smile.  How do I know this?  In a similar scene, Peter asked Jesus in effect: “How many chances should I give my brother when he sins against me?”  Peter, thinking he is pretty generous suggests, “Seven times?”  Nope, not when Jesus is holding the scorecard. “Not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven (Matt 18:21-22).  That’s right.  Jesus gives us unlimited mulligans in life and instructs us to give others just as many.  And the best part about playing with Jesus is that, unlike with some, the mulligans Jesus gives us don’t come with strings attached.  They are free.

5. Jesus is pleasant company.  “Relax a bit and have some fun,” he says with a smile. “Isn’t it fun just being together out here on this beautiful day?”  Jesus is the opposite of the stingy, rule-keeping, scorecard-obsessed, grumpy old many with an attitude. He’s the perfect caddy and most dynamic coach.  He’s everything you want in a golfing companion — save the goofy pants and gaudy sweater.

So, while we may never get to actually play a round with the incarnate Jesus (until heaven!), we do get to be part of the most magnificent foursome on the long, unpredictable, challenging and rewarding course we call life.  That’s right, you have a set tee time renewable every morning with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Don’t be late!  And, most importantly, have fun out there!


1. What was the perception you had of God during our imaginative exercise above?  How does this perception of God shape your relationship with God?

2. Do you tend to be too concerned with keeping track of your penalties and mis-hits in your faith?  Or do you tend to not care enough about how well you’re living?  

3. Which of the 5 points above most powerfully struck you?  

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