Originally posted on Facebook–October, 2009

I cannot profess to being a golfer. While I have traversed the greens of various courses, the balls I play tend to disappear into the surrounding wilderness. A typical shot for me generally goes air, tree, then see—as in see it go “kerplunk” in nearby water or “thumph” into sand.

In general, to golf is to battle against my natural inclination to possess as much control as possible in the outcome of my performance. Golf is a test of patience, a negotiation with nature, and a psycho-analysis of self. And so, with many activities of such a challenging nature, it lends itself to failure and sometimes cheating—uh, I mean “rules forgiveness.”

Fortunately, the mulligan, while not accepted in organized golf, is commonplace in social golf, which is the only form of golf in which I participate. A mulligan is a shot retaken, due to a poor, errant shot. Traditionally, mulligans are allowed only on the first tee shot, usually one per round, and are not just taken at any time of the golfer’s choosing. Mulligans are typically granted by golf partners, as it is to the benefit of all that time is not wasted wandering through the forests of failure. A good tee shot significantly improves the player’s success on the hole.

Mulligans provide a similar kind of forgiveness to that Jesus implemented and encouraged others to likewise practice. For a golfer to ask for a mulligan can be viewed as someone repenting. Not only does the golfer want to be forgiven for his or her errant shot, but he or she desires to correct themselves. Once a mulligan is granted, it is as though the errant shot never occurred.

Upon receiving a mulligan, it is up to the golfer to do better with the second chance. So if the golfer decides to take the same poor approach and slice it into the woods, there is a strong chance that the golfer’s party will not permit a second mulligan. However, if the golfer took a different approach, realizing the poor approach implemented initially was a cause for the shot’s errancy, I would like to think that his or her colleagues would allow a second mulligan…and a third… (For those of us really in tune with forgiveness—and patience).

And the beauty with permitting mulligans? From my experience, it is an act of forgiveness and giving that typically perpetuates itself. Rules of etiquette—don’t you love how ignoring rules creates a new set of rules?—contend that if given a mulligan, it is good and right to do the same for others. The only person who may not think so is the scratch golfer playing with novices.

Within the books of the New Testament, similar logic seems to be encouraged by Jesus Christ.

He without Sin

They [The Pharisees and Scribes] said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued to ask him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore.”

From my perspective as a Christian—believing Jesus to be the Son of God—there are some truths that I believe we can take away from this recorded event of his ministry:

  • We all are guilty of doing something wrong.  While I believe most of us to consider ourselves ‘good’ people, we have all sinned. Therefore we must be careful of being hypocrites and condemning others. I use the word ‘condemning’ over ‘judgment’ intentionally, as I believe that 1 Corinthians clearly sets the expectation that Christians must hold one another accountable to what they profess.
  • Only God is without sin.  Given His omnipotence and sovereignty over existence, God cannot sin. The word sin comes from “hamarta” meaning, “missing the mark.” It basically means acting outside of God, “without God.” Therefore, God is flawless, and cannot only hold us accountable, but justly condemn if He so chooses.
  • God is forgiving, but expects us to be repentful when forgiven.  As Jesus is the only man to ever be without sin in this world (given He was, is, and forever will be God; part of the Holy Trinity), he has the authority to condemn the adulterous woman, but shows mercy and love to her. He gives her a mulligan; a chance to do right. We should not forget the word “repent.” Asking for forgiveness but not feeling remorse for your wrongs and attempting to correct those actions is not how it works. God expects us to change for the better when we are forgive

Jesus also tells his disciples a parable that we can use to build off of these key learnings. In it, our Savior shows God’s mercy AND His judgment, when we do not show the mercy that He bestows on us to others.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Then Peter approaching asked him [Jesus], “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Personally, I love mulligans. Mulligans help me complete the holes on the golf course of life. So much so, I have a mulligan dependency. And fortunately, there is one generous, mulligan-granting, scratch golfer always at the course; and available to play in my group as long as I ask. His name is Jesus, and he never needs a mulligan.

Yet, how many times have I focused on that rare hole-in-one, forgetting all the times that I’ve been granted mulligans by Jesus? At one time or another, we have all likely turned into golf-rule Nazis; failing to grant a mulligan to another who could really use one? So have a heart, and do not forget to practice social golf etiquette…

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