By Dr. James C. Denison
President, the Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, Texas
June 3, 2010
Topic: justice and grace
Umpires and atheists
Did you hear about the perfect game that wasn’t?
Armando Galarraga lost his spot in the Detroit Tigers’ pitching rotation after a poor spring training. He was recalled from the minors on May 16. The 28-year-old Venezuela native had been successful two years ago, but nothing predicted baseball immortality. Then he pitched a perfect game yesterday against the Cleveland Indians. Twenty-seven hitters up, twenty-seven out. Except that they weren’t.
First-base umpire Jim Joyce now shares Galarraga’s immortality. He’s the umpire who blew the call on the last out of the game. Indians hitter Jason Donald grounded to the first baseman, who fielded the ball and threw to the pitcher covering the base. Donald was clearly out, according to eyewitnesses and replays shown during evening news sports coverage across the nation. Everyone knew it except Joyce, whose opinion was the only one which counted. He called the runner safe. The next batter was out, the game was over, and the perfect game that wasn’t, was done.
Baseball isn’t fair, but that’s a good thing. If it were fair, Galarraga’s perfect game would be intact—or would it? If there were no luck or human error in the sport, no umpire would ever miss a call. But no pitcher would throw a ball which a batter could turn into a base hit, while no batter would miss a ball thrown in the strike zone. Would we have all outs, or none?
Oscar Wilde was convinced that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” If he had been a baseball fan, he would have said the same of the sport. At one time or another, we all want God to be more fair than he seems to be. Atheists such as Sam Harris claim that the existence of a suffering child anywhere in the universe calls into question the existence of an all-loving, omnipotent God. Christians who endure unfair suffering often struggle to keep the faith. Even Jesus could cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
At the same time, imagine your life today if you and everyone else were treated fairly. If you speed on your way to work, you’ll get a ticket. If you speak anything but the absolute truth at every moment of the day, your deceit will be exposed. Every immoral attitude or thought will be known to the rest of us. If God were fair, how could he forgive a single sin or grant a single soul eternity in his perfect paradise? Which do you need more today, his justice or his grace?
C. S. Lewis divided humanity into two groups. The first says to God, “your will be done.” To the second God must say, “your will be done.” Which group do you choose this morning?
By Dr. James C. Denison