Risks and asterisks

Really walking with God almost never happens on a level playing field

Issue: "Promise Keepers breakdown," March 21, 1998

Why would Bill Gates and Geno Auriemma, Nykesha Sales's basketball coach, probably not get along well if they were assigned to compare notes? To be sure, if it really happened, the two of them might get on just famously. But theoretically, they shouldn't-because deep down, they don't share the same worldview. The reason for mentioning Bill Gates and Geno Auriemma in the same sentence is this: When it comes to competition, Bill Gates-the founder of and wealthy stockholder in the huge Microsoft corporate empire-says he favors a wide open, no-holds-barred approach. He told members of Congress a few days ago that he doesn't like a rigged game. He wants Microsoft, and all the other high-tech companies, to compete on a playing field unfettered by governmental intervention and manipulation. Mr. Auriemma, meanwhile, was promoting a different perspective. In February, Miss Sales had been closing in on the all-time scoring record in women's basketball at the University of Connecticut. Then, when she was just a single point away from that record, personal disaster struck. Miss Sales ruptured her Achilles' tendon. She was a senior, and the season was about to end while she was sidelined with her leg in a cast. The sympathetic coach, however, had a better idea. For the season's final game, he arranged with both the opposing coach and the conference officials to start with a unique pair of plays. First, the ball would be inbounded to Miss Sales, standing in her leg cast just beneath the basket; she would be permitted an uncontested layup. Then, the other team would be allowed an uncontested layup. Finally, with the score tied at 2-2, the regular game would proceed. And Miss Sales would be in the record book. (Later reports suggested still other questions about Miss Sales's accomplishments-but that's beside this point.) You can easily find both these worldviews, different as they are, struggling for attention and dominance in our culture. And whether Mr. Gates and Mr. Auriemma recognize it or not, they represent very different perspectives on how God's providence unfolds in our lives. One of those perspectives suggests a sort of high-risk, live-and-let-live approach to life. The other argues for a low-risk, keep-tinkering-to-keep-it-safe style. One perspective suggests there will always be only three dominant forces on the playing field: you, your competition, and the shape and condition of the field itself. The other perspective suggests there will always be those three forces, plus one more-a very visible set of officials and authorities who will constantly be working to make sure everything is fair, at least according to their sense of fairness. The first perspective is represented politically by libertarians, who want to leave virtually everything to competitive forces. The second perspective is represented politically by socialists, who argue that governmental authorities are smart enough to manipulate most of the variables in life to produce a fairly even-handed score at the end of the game. The sports analogy is apt, simply because in the field of sports we see such forces at work so openly and so frequently. Only last week, NASCAR officials ruled that Ford Tauruses were winning too many races, and that the cars needed to be modified (translate that "slowed down") so that the Chevrolets and Pontiacs had a chance. We've had pitching mounds raised and lowered, three-point arcs moved in and out, more and less graphite allowed in golf clubs, among other things. Roger Maris finally beat Babe Ruth's home run record, but only after officials had added eight games to the baseball season-and so his record has had an asterisk attached to it. Yet who wants a record book cluttered by asterisks? From the time we were very young, we knew enough to resent having the people in charge hold some of the bigger kids back just so we little kids could win. When there's a host of do-gooders fussing with all the standards, what does any achievement of any kind mean any more? But we're not talking only about records for athletes. In every area of human endeavor these days, a spirit pervades arguing that we've got to make it not only possible but certain that everyone will win. There was the case a couple of weeks ago of a deaf lifeguard suing to keep her job in spite of worries that she might not hear the cries of a struggling swimmer. Even when her employer cited evidence that the swimming pool would not be able to get liability insurance, others argued that it "wasn't fair" that this otherwise outstanding young woman couldn't have the job. It's with that issue of "not fair" that God's providence comes to bear. Implicit in these contrasting worldviews is either (1) a humble sense that "this is what God has willed, and so I'll learn to deal with it" or (2) a feisty challenge that says, "I can't accept this, so I'll try to get the rules changed." Yes, that's a vast oversimplification-and I freely admit every one of us at one time or another finds himself operating in either of the two worldviews. Nor am I claiming that we should necessarily learn our doctrine of God's providence at the feet of Bill Gates. But I do suggest this: Learning the adventure of walking with God will always happen best when you discard the temptation to eliminate life's risks.

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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