When he was just a little boy of 11, David Holmquist, the Athletic Director and longtime Basketball coach – one of just 17 coaches to win 800 or more games, and the only active NAIA Division I coach with 800-plus wins – at Biola University in La Mirada, California, decided that it was time to get right with God. The Cuban Missile Crisis was unfolding on the international stage, and every night for two weeks David went to bed not sure if he would awaken in the morning to see another day. And so David finally decided that things in the world around him were just so uncertain that it was probably time for him to ask Jesus Christ into his heart as his personal Lord and Savior. But before he could, there was one thing he really needed to know. And so approaching his dad one evening after dinner, David explained that he was ready to accept Jesus Christ. This seemed to please his dad, and he immediately began to lead his son through the steps of a well-rehearsed “plan of salvation.” When they got to “the sinner’s prayer” step, David interrupted the process to ask his question. “Before we get to that,” David asked his dad, “there’s just something that I’ve really got to know — Will there be baseball in heaven?” David was sorely disappointed when his father said “no.” But trying to help, David’s dad quickly added, “But there will be lots of things in heaven so much better than baseball.” Something better than baseball? At the age of 11, David says that he couldn’t imagine what any of those “better than baseball” things might be.
Well, David says that he finally prayed the prayer of salvation with his dad that night asking Jesus Christ into his heart even though it was something of a disappointment for him. “I just couldn’t imagine how heaven was going to be any fun,” David explains, “without baseball.” And there are some of us who are right there with him. [David Holmquist – “Will There Be Baseball in Heaven?” – Christianity Today 38 (10 – January – 1994): 30-33].
When my dad died, the only spiritual question that my mother seemed to have for me as her minister son concerned their dog – “Barney” – who had been put to sleep right before dad’s health took its final and irrevocable last turn. “Will your father and Barney be together again in heaven?” was all that my mother wanted to know. She asked with such intensity and earnestness, that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I really didn’t think so. But, “There will be things so much better that Barney in heaven for dad” was what I was thinking in my head, but what came out of my mouth was, “I really don’t know for sure, but let me see what I can find out for you.” That’s something I learned in seminary.
When you’re uncertain, stall. Invoke the “mystery” clause of faith, the Deuteronomy 29:29 “secret things belong to the Lord” trump card to every question that stumps you. And so I extricated myself from my mother’s grief-filled question with that well-rehearsed response. She nodded her head, told me okay, but quickly added, “So, we’ll talk about it again later.” I may have bought some time, but I wasn’t off the hook. I knew that this question would circle back around again and again until I came up with an answer. I knew that my mother, relentless in that motherly sort of way, was going to hold me to my promise to look into the prospects of dogs in heaven. And what I found out surprised me.
You see, there are lots of Christians who actually believe that when we get to heaven we’re going to find our most cherished pets waiting there for us, and C.S. Lewis, the formidable British Christian whose books about Christianity remain bestsellers 50 years after his death, was one of them. He reasoned from 2 Corinthians 2:9 – “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Based on this verse which promises unimaginable bliss when we get to heaven, C.S. Lewis argued that if what it’s going to take to make you truly happy in heaven is having your special dog, or cat, or parakeet right there with you, then God will see to it that it happens. And Biblically, it doesn’t hurt that when God’s promised future for us and for all creation got pictured in the Hebrew Scriptures, the picture included animals – “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), or that the praise of “every living thing” surrounds God’s eternal throne (Psalm 150:6).
Is this argument persuasive?
I don’t know.
It certainly satisfied my mother, and I suppose that I’m grateful for the thought if for no other reason than that it gave her some peace after dad, and Barney were gone. What C.S. Lewis’ argument about dogs in heaven has done for me is to remember the Bible’s promise that heaven is going to be a state of unimaginable bliss for those who love God. It’s going to be so good that our eyes and ears won’t believe it, and our hearts won’t be able to fathom it, and now, at least in my head and heart, we’re talking about baseball in heaven again.
Another idea that C.S. Lewis had that I find compelling is that God gives us little foretastes of what heaven is eventually going to be like throughout our lives here and now so that we will continue the journey towards it. They are partial and fragmentary glimpses of it at best, but they point us in the direction of what God has in store for us in eternity because He loves us. For some people its music that points their hearts to what’s coming next. For others it’s a great painting or a masterpiece of literature. For nearly all of us it’s our relationships with our loved ones that alerts our hearts to what awaits us in eternity. The preacher in Ecclesiastes said that “God set eternity in the human heart” (3:11), and for some of us, what stirs eternity in our hearts is baseball.
Am I making too much of baseball? Perhaps…
But is it not also a possibility that you’re making too little of baseball?
The nationally syndicated political columnist George Will once observed that people who say that baseball is only a game are the same people who say that the Grand Canyon is only a great big hole in the ground.
Ken Burns in his PBS series on Baseball pointed out that this game has “mythic proportions” in the American soul because it’s all about “getting home,” and as the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft reminds us, all of the great stories of Western Civilization are stories about people trying to get home – The Odyssey, The Exodus, The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The late Bart Giamatti, the seventh commissioner of baseball who was a professor of renaissance literature at Yale University before leading major league baseball, always made it a point to say that one of our most common words for heaven, the word “paradise,” is a Persian word that means “an enclosed park,” or a “green space.” He argued that baseball matters spiritually because ballparks remind us of the Garden from which we were expelled and of the paradise to which we are going.
Tim Stafford in an article on baseball in Christianity Today a number of years ago suggested that the spiritual significance of baseball is like that of the Passion plays of medieval times. It is the story of the noble struggle that leads to victory and the hope that is born of defeat — themes intrinsic to the Gospel story of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection itself.
And finally, Richard Mouw in his study of common grace – God’s delight in everything that He made and not just in what He saves – suggested that what common grace means is that God can enjoy a good baseball game for reasons that “stand alongside of, rather than being subservient to” His work of eternal salvation. He “shines in all that’s fair” as the title of his book on common grace borrowed from a line of the hymn “This is My Father’s World” (#59 in the Chalice Hymnal) puts it. And in some mysterious way, as Revelation 21:24 hints at, in the final restoration of all things, “the kings of the earth will bring their splendors into” the New Jerusalem for the glory of God and the eternal joy of His redeemed people. And since baseball is one of the true splendors of this earth, I’m not counting out the possibility that there is going to be baseball in heaven. DBS+