Taking A Mulligan

For those unfamiliar with golf lingo, “taking a mulligan” refers to starting your round with a bad shot and then hitting a second ball without penalty. The way things have gone so far this year, I ask slightly tongue in cheek: “Can we take a mulligan and start 2020 over?”

Actually, there’s a good news/bad news answer to this proposal. Let’s take the bad news first:

In relation to time, there are no mulligans. God has so ordained that we live our earthly lives in a succession of passing moments, a flowing “stream of time” that cannot be paused, rewound or replayed. “Existence” is constantly moving by in measured increments of seconds, minutes, hours, days and years.

In our youth, time appears limitless, but in the fullness of age, life seems to pass swiftly: “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. ... So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:10, 12).

This really isn’t “bad news.” Rather, it is an unalterable, objective fact that places a premium on how we choose to spend our time. We only have so much time with our spouses; don’t squander it. We only have so many years with our children; make them count. We only have so many chances to reach the lost; speak honestly and lovingly. We only have so many opportunities to help others; serve diligently. “The night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

But now the good news:

In relation to mistakes, there are millions of mulligans. Literally, this is the essence of the gospel – good news. Our sins are incalculable. Many of life’s moments are tainted by shortfalls of God’s standards. We may be especially troubled by “big sins,” i.e., the egregious violations of God’s law that were overtly hurtful or humiliating. But if we saw our hearts the way God sees them – fully laid bare and stripped of all excuses, rationalizations and willful blindness – our self-loathing would probably be inconsolable.

But God’s mercy is so great and the Lord’s death so valuable that it covers our sin both in number and in magnitude. Every day, every moment of every day, offers moral cleansing and spiritual renewal. For the penitent heart, there is no sin unforgivable, no quota limiting the supply of atoning blood. As we occasionally sing: “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!”

Can you imagine our misery if God had not sacrificed His Son for us? Overwhelming guilt, suffocating shame, paralyzing fear of death and hopeless dread of judgment. How dark would be our existence!

No, we cannot live a single day over – no mulligans. But we can be forgiven of what we have so badly messed up, and that truth changes everything. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).