The simple answer is yes. He should keep it because he played by the rules and won the Men's All-Around Gymnastics competition in Athens last week. Whatever else you can say, no one can blame Paul Hamm. He competed according to the rules and when the night was over, he won the gold medal. No one has suggested foul play as an explanation for the judges incorrectly scoring the Korean gymnast's routine on the parallel bars.

Was it a mistake? Yes.

Were they right to suspend the judges who made the mistake? Yes.

That should be the end of the matter, except for instituting procedures that safeguard against such mistakes in the future.

End of story? Not quite. These days no one wants to live with the reality that "mistakes happen." This was a mistake, a dumb mistake, a tragic mistake for the Korean gymnast, and leaves a cloud hanging over the whole competition. But giving back the gold medal won't erase that cloud, and giving a second gold medal won't solve the problem either.

Suppose the mistake had never happened. Can anyone be certain that the Korean gymnast would have won? Athletic contests are real-time events. Who knows? Perhaps the Korean would have slipped in one of his final routines. Perhaps Paul Hamm would have been even more inspired. You can play the "what-if" game forever and it won't take away the ambiguity inherent in a fallen world. 

A fallen world. That brings theology into the controversy, which is entirely proper since God is to be seen in every part of life. A few day ago (before the controversy erupted) I wrote an entry called Paul Hamm and the Improbable Providence of God. The events since then lead me to add this PS to what I wrote: Living in a fallen world guarantees that bad things will happen to seemingly innocent people. Certainly strange and unpredictable things happen to all of us from to time. That too is from is the hand of God. Here is how Solomon puts it in Ecclesiastes 9:11.

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Stuff happen. Good stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. The fastest man doesn't always win the race, the strongest army doesn't win every battle. Every time I read that verse I am reminded of Damon Runyon's wry comment: "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."

So who's right? Solomon or Damon Runyan? They are both right, each in his own way. Most of the time the fastest man will win. That's Runyan's point. But not always--and that's Solomon's point.

Where is God in all of this? While preaching last month at Mount Hermon, I pointed out from the life of Joseph that God often uses seemingly unfair events to accomplish his will. On the spur of the moment I used an expression that almost sounds slangy to express that God is present in every situation, even the ones that make no sense to us. In the worst things that happen to us, God is not just present, he all over the situation. I have friend who when something needs to be done will say, "Don't worry about it, Pastor Ray. I'm all over it." And when he says that, I don't worry about it because my friend is as good his word. He really is "all over it."

Where was God when those judged fouled up the scoring last week? He was right there, he was all over that situation. It could not have happened apart from God's permission. That does not erase a mistake, but it does mean that God works through human mistakes to accomplish his will. I for one am glad that is true because I make plenty of mistakes, and I have seen God work in them and through them and sometimes in spite of them to accomplish his will in my life. And I have sometimes suffered because of the mistakes of others. That's the common human experience. "Time and chance" happen to all of us sooner or later.

That's why I think Paul Hamm should keep his gold medal. Mistakes were made, but not by him. Sometimes you have to say, "I don't know why that happened, but I know God is all over that situation," and then move on with your life. Sometimes you end up with the gold medal, sometimes you don't, and God is all over it either way.


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