By Ward Shope
I’m not much of a golfer. My dad played a lot over the years and once in a while he would ask me to join in an all-expenses-paid afternoon of recreation. I loved the beauty of Lancaster Country Club, but the first 9 holes were always pure torture. From the first tee, my ball would either pop high in the air or skim across the ground and never go straight down the fairway. “You want a mulligan?” he’d ask. Generally, I would say, “No thanks” because I was pretty sure the next shot wouldn’t be any better.
A mulligan is a “do-over”. Practice is supposed to make do-overs superfluous, but once we are done with practice, or have failed to practice, there’s no going back. When we taught our kids to drive, we would make sure to impress them with the reality that a slight lapse of attention could lead to devastating consequences to them, and/or to others because of them. There are no do-overs once you have the responsibility of taking the wheel on your own.
This is true in other arenas as well. The words are already out of our mouths before we realize the consequences. The action is taken before we fully understand the chain of response. I’ve lost a job. I’ve betrayed relationships. The job never returned, and by God’s grace the relationship was restored, but they aren’t always. Many broken things in this world will never be repaired in this world. There are no true mulligans in our lives. History can never be redone as they are in The Edge of Tomorrow or Groundhog Day. We only learn to “reinterpret” them, usually falsely, or we learn to live with them redemptively.
Besides, having a mulligan wouldn’t solve the issue. We would still be, well… us. We are prone to inattentiveness, lapses of judgment, or worse, assertive actions meant to harm or maim. We are sometimes surprised at what we’ve cleverly destroyed only to weep and become bitter at the result. With all the futility we suffer in our daily lives, we are sometimes most effective at using our worst instincts. It is easy to break. Ultimately, healing is always a work of God.
Translators have always struggled with John 3:3. If we trust Jesus, are we “born again” or “born from above”? Nicodemus understands Jesus’ words in the first sense, but Jesus is offering us more than a mulligan. If we simply re-live life, we will make many of the same mistakes and probably others besides. We need a completely different origin – one that is given to us.
This is what resurrection is about. We don’t just get to live for eternity. In fact, in some sense those in hell get that: a hopeless eternal mulligan without change. Rather, we are given a whole new beginning point located in Christ, a different character, a true image of God. For believers, we are already dying in this world in order to be resurrected again. And one day we will open our eyes when death is completed, and be truly born from above.