I just returned from a nice long weekend away with the family. This was one of our annual trips that with a couple other families. We took the kids tubing at the lake, went ATV-ing, sat around the campfire and played various games. All in all it was a great weekend. Another regular part of this weekend is that the guys head out early one morning for a round of golf. I enjoy golf, although I am not very good at it and I only seem to get out half a dozen times a year. I had one of the best games in years earlier this summer when I shot a 47 (on 9 holes) on a father’s day outing.
This last weekend we teed off Sunday morning for our annual game. It was an absolutely beautiful morning and the course was in superb condition. I was looking forward to this round since I have been playing pretty good this summer so far. The one downer was that I didn’t bring my own clubs (which are nothing special, but I am used to them), due to a miscommunication about whether or not we were playing. So I had rentals, which I usually don’t mind since they give me a chance to try out a newer set of clubs.
Then it started. Third off the tee box. I lined up with my rented driver and swung and heard a nice smack and watched the ball sail at least 250 yards… right into the trees, never to return. The cause: a magnificent slice. Something I hadn’t done for most of the summer. I decide to take a mulligan since I have to get used to the rentals. A second swing. An impressive smack. And I again watched my ball turn a right angle into the forest. I decide to place a ball where it went out and started walking down the fairway enjoying the beautiful weather with my mind still in the game. I drop a ball at the appropriate spot, take out my 4 iron, and duff it. By the time I get to the green I am already sitting six and then proceed to three putt it.
I won’t describe any more of my game, except to say that I had pretty much my worst game in a long time. I was slicing. I was topping balls. I was hitting the sand traps. I was not having a good game.
Around the 6th hole my mind turned to Scripture. More specifically my mind turned to the book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet in the Hebrew Bible). “All is vanity/meaningless”; or as I prefer to translate hebel, “All is absurd.” I thought of the absurdity of ruining a perfectly good walk through God’s beautiful creation by trying to hit a stupid white ball into a hole hundreds of yards away with only a club. Throughout the rest of the game I thought of other lines from Ecclesiastes:
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun [chasing a stupid white ball]? (Eccl 1:3)
All is absurd and a chasing after [stupid white balls] (Eccl 1:14)
A time to [hit balls] away [into the rough], and a time to look for [stupid white balls] in the rough (Eccl 3:5)
Cast your [balls] upon the water [hazard], for after many days you will get it back [yeah, right!] (Eccl 11:1)
I still like golf, although any delusions I had that my game was getting better were dashed this last Sunday. In this respect, golf is very much like the book of Ecclesiastes. A peruse through Ecclesiastes also dashes any illusions that we are in control of our lives; that what we do in this fallen hebel world will always go according to our best laid plans. I like the way Eugene Peterson described the book of Ecclesiastes:
[It is] a John the Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging. [We] read Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that are cloy. It is an exposé and rejection of every pretentious and presumptuous expectation aimed at God (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 155-156).
That, my dear reader, is also the function of the game of golf.