Our sense of justice and the outrage over the botched Saints call

An egregious no-call in the Saints-Rams, NFC Championship game yesterday.

Missed calls happen. But I don’t know if I can think of ever seeing a more consequential no-call that had a bigger impact on a game than the missed pass interference with 1:46 left to go in the game.

The situation 

With 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, the Saints faced a third and ten from the Rams 13 yard line. Running down the sideline, Drew Brees throws to an open Tommylee Lewis. In desperation, Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman runs over and blasts Lewis.

No flag.

It was pass interference and arguably hitting a defenseless player, but nothing was called. Fourth down. Field goal. Rams get the ball.

The Rams would tie the game and sent it to overtime, where they won.

It’s true that the Saints could have stopped the Rams at the end of regulation and failed. It’s true that the Saints defense could have stopped the Rams in overtime and that the Rams had to kick a 57 yard field goal to win.

So yes, the Saints didn’t lose the game on that blown call.

However, if that call was made right, the Saints would have been in an easy position to win. If the call was made right, Saints get a first down with 1:46. Rams had one timeout. So the Saints could have taken three knees, ran out the clock and setup for a chip shot field goal with no time left.

So yeah, a pretty big missed call by the referees. It was that consequential to where the Saints basically win the game if it’s made right. Yes, I realize that the kicker could theoretically have missed the field goal. Yes, I realize other calls get missed. But none that were that essential to the outcome of the game (or any playoff game I ever remember seeing.)

I’m not a Saints fan. A lot of people aren’t Saints fans but have a hard time not feeling angry on their behalf in the wake of this blown callhat they were wronged, and don’t like that they lost when it appears that the right call would have almost certainly given them a win. A lot of us aren’t Saints fans but don’t like that this is why they didn’t get the win.

We live in a culture that has a sport obsession and we do not respond well to that which is unfair happening on the playing field. We demand righteousness in the final ruling. We love justice. And it’s not just limited to sports. Cable news devotes countless hours to high-profile trials, networks air courtroom shows, and we have numerous television dramas that revolve around justice such as Law and Order, etc, etc.

It’s so interesting to me that people become indignant at an injustice in a football game while we find the idea that a morally perfect God could judge us for our sins as being outrageous and offensive.

When compared to God’s standard of moral perfection, we fall short. Do we deserve justice for that? Or should that just be ok?

Let’s take a moment to forget about the good versions of ourselves and think about the darkness in our lives that we’re always trying to hide. Let’s think about our internal conflict between how we act in certain situations, and the version of ourselves who we’re always fighting a war to suppress. Where’s the justice for that? For the wrongs we’ve committed? For the people we are when no one is looking? For the sins for which we were never caught? Where’s our justice?

The logical consequence of our sinful actions – which are our willing rebellion against God’s perfection – is to be separated from God. It’s not because he chooses to be separated from us but because we choose to separate ourselves from Him. The perfection we need is something that we could never attain by our own actions; and despite the fact that we deserve the wrath of God, He made a provision. To quote the author and pastor Tim Keller. “Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died.”

Many call Christians arrogant for believing that you must have faith in Jesus to get to God. It’s one of the most fundamental differences between Christianity and other faiths. Most of the world’s religions operate on a sort of moral scale where life is about tipping the scale in your favor by doing more good than bad.

But it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you actually are. In Christianity, it is the idea that we are immoral and that we cannot fix the problem. Christianity isn’t arrogant. The gospel is humbly recognizing the depth of our sins and admitting that we cannot save ourselves.

It is the belief that we could save ourselves by simply doing a few more good deeds which is arrogant.

Adapted from a piece called “the NFL, human nature, and theology” originally written September 25, 2012

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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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