Forgiveness and Craig Joubert

The whistle went, the crowd booed, and the ref sprinted for the tunnel. It’s safe to say that Scotland vs. Australia did not end up the way that anyone with blue face paint on that day wanted.

The fateful quarterfinal will probably be a memory I carry with me for a long time. We were this close. But, alas, ‘twas not our time.

Watching on my phone, on my way to church, I couldn’t be entirely sure what happened at the very end. The penalty looked harsh, the Scots looked devastated, the Aussies jubilant. Then social media exploded with reactions to the swift exit by Craig Joubert, who refereed the match. Matt Dawson and Gavin Hastings in the BBC commentary box weren’t pleased. The people tweeting weren’t pleased. It just, well, it just wasn’t the rugby way, really.

The next morning came and though the sting of the previous night remained, the edge had lifted (slightly). With time and the subsiding of enflamed passion we came to wonder if we had been a little harsh on Joubert.

The sin binning earlier (was it really a yellow card?) and the penalty at the end may both have been mistakes, but one could hardly say that they were outlandish. Pause long enough and it’s obvious that if only a portion of the action from events preceding those decisions were visible to the ref then the logic of his decisions was plausibly true. Deliberate knock-ons do produce yellows. Offside play results in penalties.

At this moment in time I’m not sure why Craig ran off the field so quickly. Certainly it didn’t look good.

But now I am responsible for my judgement. Ban Mr Joubert from officiating northern hemisphere games? Ask the home office to deny him entry to the UK? Send him back to refereeing school?

The fact that one man runs around a pitch for 80 minutes keeping up with professional athletes and analysing every angle, position, tackle, etc. etc. is quite frankly herculean. The one time I reffed a game (football) I was so focussed on the play that I forgot to start my watch. Longest first half ever.

Referees need minds as fast as their legs, with snapshot decisions cruelly denied the processing time that spectators in days after indulge in. The TMO has afforded the referees some degree of certainty, and when the system works well bad decisions can be prevented or reversed (like an earlier knock-on in the game from Australia, that otherwise left uncaught, would have resulted in a try for the boys in Gold).

Referees make mistakes because referees are human. The larger the game and the perceived injustice is amplified accordingly.

So what then should be my response?

In the moment when passions run high it’s hard to bring the emotion under control. With time, and common sense, it’s easier to see that whatever happened is forgivable.

When people wrong us in life, typically, with time we calm down. The problems begin however when we don’t come off the boil. Some times there are wrongs done to us that are so deep, so painful, so upsetting that time doesn’t heal. Forgiveness is an ideal that seems too far from us. Perhaps we want to forgive, to move on, but we can’t. We just can’t let it go.

I think these instances afford us an opportunity to observe what we prioritise in life. We defend the things most valuable to us, and when these things are threatened or hurt we can react strongly.

If the Scottish Rugby Team is Number 1 in your life (and if it is, you sir take the medal for ‘grandest stoic resistance in the face of protracted misery’) Joubert’s actions are unforgivable. His mistake trampled on your beloved, your idol.

The Christian makes a choice when following Jesus to put God as number 1 in their life. We are defined but what we choose as most valuable, and having a forgiving God as supreme allows us to realise as He forgave us for everything we can forgive others for anything.

Of course, as broken humans – yes, even Christians – we don’t always live up to our promises and standards. We say God is Number 1, but other things have a way of muscling in on the top spot. Our careers, our possessions, our relationships, our dreams – all good things that left unchecked seek to become preeminent in our lives.

All-too-often subtle, it’s only when they are trampled on that they scream at us.

So let us use the painful, ‘damned-if-I-forgive-them-for-that’ moments to enquire of ourselves and ask who or what is most important to me? There is power to forgive all people all things, but it does not come from within but from on high. Setting God as Number 1 releases us from the prison of bitterness and unforgiveness. It sets us free.

Mr Joubert, I wish you well in your future rugby career. Perhaps one day you’ll be there when Scotland triumph in an autumn international series or win the 6 Nations (it’s coming). But even if you’re not, good luck to you.