God Doesn’t Play Our Games

It’s the umpire’s call to make, not ours.

I love baseball for many reasons, but mainly because baseball is binary. You’re either “out” or “safe.” The ball is either “fair” or “foul.” The pitch is either a “strike” or a “ball.” You either “win” or “lose,” unless it rains, which I’ve been praying for every day this summer when my Cincinnati Reds play the Milwaukee Brewers. You simply can’t lose if it’s a “rain-out.”

There’s something oddly comforting to the human psyche about all things binary. There’s no gray area. It’s either one or the other. Or is it? To quote Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham, summing up the deep mysteries of life: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” So, there’s a third possibility. It’s trinary.

I realize that one of baseball’s great enjoyments is disagreeing with the umpire’s calls, like with balls and strikes or with a runner’s attempt to steal a base. “How could that be a strike? It was too low!” or, “there’s no way he was out, the second baseman tagged him after his foot was already on the bag!” That’s been part of the game since my Cincinnati Reds (the first professional baseball team, by the way) began playing in 1869. With the advent of advanced video technology, we can now have our arguments slowed down frame by frame, so we can be outraged over an umpire’s questionable call. But, of course, it’s all questionable, isn’t it? Still, the umpire makes the call. And it’s the umpire’s call to make, not ours. Baseball fans take that for granted even as we conclude a person with significant vision impairment could’ve made a better call than that umpire. Yet, we still take it for granted because it would be impossible for baseball to work any other way. Someone, like an umpire, must declare what “is.”

It occurs to me that even non-baseball fans like to argue with God the same way baseball nuts like me argue with umpires. We question God’s judgment on a host of topics, asking questions like: “Why did this happen?” or, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or, “Why do the evil (Yankees) prosper?” In our worst moments, we like to think we’d be a better umpire than God. We all long for the clarity of the binary (good vs. evil, Reds vs. Cubs, etc.), insisting one either is saved (safe!) or damned (out!). It’s how we envision the game of life should be played, at least if we made the rules of the game.

God, however, doesn’t play our little games.

In Jesus, in his life, on his cross, and in his resurrection, God has made it clear who the umpire is (hint: not us) and what the eternal “call” is (“Grace,” the merciful forgiveness of the world’s sins). God isn’t binary, and yet we continuingly project our need for either/or clarity on to God, as if God were just like us (another hint: God isn’t, read Psalm 50:21). Rather, God’s modus operandi in Jesus takes our agency to win or lose “the game” out of our hands and places it on the body of Jesus hanging on the cross. So, God’s grace is something we should “take for granted.” When we “take for granted” what God has done in Jesus, we’re not trivializing his atoning work. On the contrary, we’re receiving and honoring God’s “call” on the “play” and we’re humbly acknowledging that “sometimes it rains” grace even on the Cubs. God has declared a trinary “rain-out” for us all through the deluge of God’s grace.

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