Paul Hamm and the Improbable Providence of God
Sometime yesterday afternoon I happened to hear that Paul Hamm had staged a miraculous comeback to win the gold medal in the Men's All-Around Gymnastics competition. As the whole world knows by now, Paul Hamm was leading until a disastrous fall on his vault dropped him into 12th place, and effectively ended any realistic chance of winning the gold medal. I know this is true because I heard the announcers say so later that night when NBC showed the competition hours after it had taken place. And I had to agree with the commentator who said, "You can't do this in the Olympics and hope to win a medal." Of course Paul Hamm came back with amazing performances in his last two rotations--the parallel bars and the high bar. He won the gold with two consecutive 9.837 scores. If you break it down in terms of rank after his third rotation, he was 1st, then he was 12th, then 4th, then 1st when it counted. He ended up .012 ahead of the Korean gymnast who came in second place.
It's a wonderful story, the kind of Olympic comeback that puts a smile on your face. But that's not really the point on my mind today. I mentioned that I heard the results in the afternoon. Since there is an eight-hour time difference between Athens and Chicago, by the time we saw the competition on TV, it was around 5 AM in Athens.
So what was it like, watching the drama unfold on television, knowing that Paul Hamm would fall, ruin his chances, then give the two best performances of his life at the end to win by a hair? I found it just as exciting to watch as if I were see it live. This surprised me. As I watched the disastrous fall, knowing he would come back, I felt the tension rising because I couldn't see how it could be done. But I knew he was going to do it.
As it turned out, Paul Hamm had some help from several other competitors who made unusual errors in their programs. Perhaps that had to happen for the miracle comeback to take place. So I stayed up late last night, watching the last two rotations. One gymnast fell off the high bar. Another had some odd breaks in his routine. And still Paul Hamm had to come through at the end. His high bar routine was spectacular, and he ended by nailing the landing. Everything in this paragraph was unknown to me before the telecast. I knew Paul Hamm won, but I didn't know all the details. When it was over, you could see how it had to happen the way it did in order for Paul Hamm to win, and still it seems improbable.
It reminds me of God's providence, the doctrine that teaches us that all things are under God's control, from the movement of the stars to the sparrow that falls to the ground. That doctrine is a precious truth because it assures me that my life is not a collection of random events, though it often seems that way. Nothing happens by accident or chance for the children of God. Providence is the "invisible hand of God" moving through history, working in, with, and through the uncoerced choices of men to see that his will is done.
From the human standpoint, we know that in the end, God wins. Today it is hard to see how that will happen. Some days the bad guys seem to be winning everywhere. Many times the wicked prosper and the good die young. If you didn't know the end of the story, you might be tempted to despair. But we know how it will end. What we don't know are all the details between now and then. But when the end finally comes, we will see that Jesus has put all his enemies under his feet, and we will see that his enemies were no match for him. Unlike the Olympics, the final score won't be close. As the ages roll on, we will cheer our Lord's victory, and we will look back and say, "It had to be that way." What seemed improbable turned to be inevitable. As Paul Hamm proved yesterday, knowing how things end up gives you a reason to keep believing.
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