How Natural Joys Become Joys in God
Joy in baseball is a natural joy. There is nothing inherently spiritual about it. Millions of players and fans enjoy the game with no supernatural or spiritual dimension at all. But this is about enjoying God in everything and everything in God. So how does my natural joy in baseball become a supernatural joy in God? That’s the question Christian Hedonists ask. There are hundreds of answers to it. I’ll give four.
1. Baseball trains future men.
Joy in playing and coaching baseball becomes joy in God when I recognize that physical training has some value, including value as a picture of training in godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). A significant part of that value is in raising boys to become men. Baseball, like many sports, creates the opportunity for channeling masculinity in fruitful directions. Baseball awakens ambition, competition, the drive for excellence, intense emotions in victory and defeat. These are all good, but dangerous. Coaching my sons in baseball is an opportunity to train them to master these emotions and to cultivate humility, patience, diligence, perseverance, and joy in all circumstances. Such habits of natural virtue and self-mastery are a crucial part of growth in maturity and have real and lasting value in cultivating spiritual virtue and godliness.
2. Baseball allows me to express God’s heart to my sons.
Joy in baseball becomes joy in God when I share joy with my sons and therefore love them by showing them what God is like. We know the distinct delight of introducing another person to one of our favorite pleasures. The pleasure of sharing is distinct in kind from the pleasure of the object or activity. It’s one thing to enjoy reading a book I love; it’s another flavor of joy to give that book to my son whom I expect will also love it, and then find that he does. The anticipation of sharing that story with him, of seeing him light up at the same parts, of entering into the joy for the first time, is its own reward. This is often what parents are—the bringers and introducers of joys.
God is like that. He loves to be the bringer of joys. One reason he made the universe is so that there could be some third thing that he could bring to us, eyes aflame with knowing expectation, and say, “Here you go. Try it.”
We catch a glimpse of this in the creation of Eve—Adam’s solitude, God’s recognition that it’s not good, the failed attempt at finding a helper among the beasts, and then the deep sleep, the awakening, the triumphant “At last!” I can’t help but picture God with a knowing grin as he builds the woman from Adam’s rib. He pictures the scene when Adam awakes; he anticipates Adam’s euphoria in the same way that parents anticipate their children’s joy on Christmas Eve as they place the presents around the tree.
I know it’s an analogy; God is, after all, simple and timeless, without shadow of turning (or anticipation). Whatever likeness there is between my experience as the bringer of joy to my sons and God’s experience of bringing joy to us, there is also a great unlikeness, because God is not in time, God is not complex, God does not anticipate, God does not change. But despite that unlikeness, I believe that the likeness is real. My joy in sharing baseball with my boys is something like God’s joy in sharing everything with me (including baseball).
3. Baseball helps me toward holiness.
Joy in baseball becomes joy in God when it helps me to kill sin and pursue holiness. When I’m on the field, I find that my burdens lift. There’s a much-needed respite from the pressures of life and ministry, an echo of Eden, which I deliberately wield in the fight of faith. When I’m shaping my boys into men and sharing joy with them and showing them what God is like, I’m doing what I was made for. So, in coaching, I feel God’s pleasure. And in feeling God’s pleasure, I put my sin to death. I’m a better husband, a better father, a better pastor. When I wield baseball in the fight for holiness, joy in baseball becomes joy in God.
4. Baseball points me to the world to come.
The bittersweetness of my dad’s absence brings a note of earthly sorrow and heavenly hope into the present joy. In other words, my sorrow on the field points me forward to the day when sorrows and sighings flee away. My sadness because of my dad’s absence on that baseball field is a reminder of the coming day when, as Tolkien said, everything sad comes untrue.
[God] loves to be the bringer of joys.
I sometimes imagine heaven as a Little League baseball game, with my boys playing, me coaching, and my dad watching. It’s a joy I’ll never have on earth. I don’t know that I’ll have it in heaven. I have no idea how the distinct joy of playing catch with a seven-year-old while being watched by a seventy-year-old could be there. How old will we be in heaven?
A mother knows that the pleasure of holding her newborn is one of the highest joys of her life. But how can there be newborns in heaven? And isn’t my heavenly baseball game just like a barren woman who pictures herself in heaven rocking a newborn to sleep? What is the point of imagining such impossibilities?
But in my case, the heavenly ball game is not what I really want. The ball game is a placeholder for something. It’s a way of reaffirming my belief in Revelation 21:4—“He will wipe away every tear from [my] eyes.” It’s my way of believing the promises of God.
But, you might say, God didn’t promise me the baseball game with my sons and my dad. That’s true. But he did promise, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
All things, including the baseball game and the barren woman’s child. Heaven will have either my ball game or something better. Heaven will see the barren woman with either a baby or something better. But since I have no clear picture of what the “something better” might be, I project my greatest desires (which are often the converse of my greatest earthly sorrows), and then say, “Even better than that.”
This article is adapted from Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? by Joe Rigney.
How did you become a Christian? Was it after you got your life sorted out?
There are two dangers that we can fall into with the things of earth: idolatry and ingratitude.
When we fail to value creation, we fail to honor the God who made and sustains it.
Doing good and being rich in good works and being generous and ready to share aren’t just about money.