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  • Writer's pictureMatthew L. Tinkham Jr.

The Tricky Pitcher and the Home-run Hitter

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers [and sisters]. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:16–17, ESV).

In the sport of baseball, the pitcher, standing 60 feet and 6 inches from the home plate, has one and only one goal in mind: strikeout that batter! He/She has many tricks up his/her sleeves to make just that happen: changeups, curveballs, splitters, sinkers, knuckleballs, screwballs, sliders, fastballs, etc. The hitter with intensity looks down the line at the pitcher's mound awaiting what may come zipping down toward the plate. He/She knows from whom those sneaky screwballs and crafty changeups come. And the hitter has to be ready for anything and everything that the pitcher can and will throw at him/her to cause a swing and a miss. Strikeout! As we do our best to navigate through the challenges of life, the trials, the temptations, the sin, the suffering, the hard times, trying to hit all of those tricky curveballs and slippery sliders that are pitched our way out of the park, we are often tempted to blame God for those bad things, especially when we swing and miss. "Why God? Why would you pitch me that crazy cutter?" Why that gnarly knuckleball?" But in baseball, the batter never blames the referee or the game organizers for those dodgy pitches; he/she knows from whom came the wily pitching—that scheming pitcher! But is not God sovereign over all things? Yes, he most certainly is! And, yes, that means that nothing happens that happens without him either causing it or, at the least, allowing it to take place at the hands of a different agent (i.e., his permissive will). Though true, we must be careful, else we may put the blame for the curveballs of life on the wrong person. As I ponder the evil and hardships of this sinful existence on earth, I am drawn to a parable that Jesus shared with multitudes of people in Matt 13:24–30, 36–43. Jesus explained to the crowd that the kingdom of heaven is like this good sower who went out into his field and sowed good seed. After a long day of sowing, the sower retired for the night. During the night, an enemy came into the field and sowed gnarly weeds about the sowers perfect and good wheat. As time past and the wheat sprouted and produced a crop, so did the weeds, all inter-tangled among the wheat. The servants of the sower were bewildered by the weeds and questioned the sower concerning them. "We thought you sowed good seed, did you not? From where did these nasty weeds come?" Then the sower makes a very important comment to his servants in Matt 13:28, ESV. "He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.'" He finished telling the parable, and the twelve disciples asked Jesus to make sense of it. In Matt 13:37–39, ESV, Jesus revealed the meaning behind the symbols of the story. "He answered, 'The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.'" In this parable, Jesus presented to the multitude who is ultimately responsible for all of the evil, suffering, temptations, and trials in this world: "An enemy has done this," that is, Satan is the guilty culprit. He is the fully culpable pitcher for the sinkers and splitters that come our way. So let us be careful not to blame God for the tricky pitches we receive. Remember, he only sows good seed in the field. To clarify this truth even more so, James wrote in Jas 1:13, ESV, "Let no one say when he [or she] is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." Do not be fooled. Things are not always as they appear. Even though it may seem that God is to blame for the evil in this world (because of his sovereign power), in reality, the blame falls elsewhere. Though he is indeed supremely sovereign over all things, he grants freedom of choice, even to the devil, and often, in this great cosmic conflict, it is used for ill, even by ourselves, causing us great suffering. Furthermore, in Jas 1:14–15, James explained, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." In other words, because of the fall, all of us humans are born with innate sinful propensities (i.e., inclinations or desires). While the devil often throws sneaky pitches our way (and sometimes other sinful human beings following him), many times our own sinful desires create temptations and trials for ourselves. So James wrote that we are sometimes responsible for the trials and temptations that exist in our own lives—not always but often. Our sinful desires can lead us into so much suffering. When we make the decision to entertain evil feelings, thoughts, and desires we are opening the door for it to give "birth to sin," and sin brings in its wake suffering and death. Now some like to say, "The devil made me do it!" It is true that Satan, the adversary of God, is ultimately culpable for all the sin that takes place on this planet because he is its father, its originator. We are all born with these evil inclinations because of what he did in Eden. But we must not think that we ourselves have no part to play. After all, Adam and Eve did choose to eat the forbidden fruit, and we often do the same today. So we cannot rid ourselves from all of the responsibility for our trials and temptations related to sin. "Do not be deceived," said James. We must come to terms with the reality that we are frequently our own worst enemy.1 But thanks be to God that there is a beautiful truth: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17, ESV). God gives only that which is good and perfect. That is why theologians often ascribe omnibenevolence to him. And, of course, his most precious gift is JESUS! Jesus is not the author or creator of evil, but rather he, with the Father and the Spirit, is the originator of all things good and perfect. As we cling to him in this world of hardship and wickedness we will find a refuge in which we may experience the good and perfect gifts of God. In Christ, we will find salvation and deliverance from guilt and shame. In Christ, we find the real answer to all of the challenges and temptations in our lives. In Christ, we are strengthened for suffering. In Christ, temptations will flee from us. In Christ, sinful desires are transformed into a love for righteousness. God does not lead us into temptation and trials; he leads us out of them. And he does this through Jesus! This week, remember that God never deals a bad hand, he never throws a tricky pitch. He does not wish for you to suffer, and he does not tempt you with evil. He has good and perfect plans for your life. Put the blame where it belongs, squarely on that serpent of old, the dragon, the devil, Satan himself. And look to Jesus for rescue, for deliverance from suffering, sin, Satan, and yourselves! We Christians can step up to bat confidently, knowing that Jesus is at the plate with us helping us in our frailty to swing at just the right time, at just the perfect angle, in just the right direction, and with just the right amount of power. And when we invite Jesus to be at the plate with us, it is an out-of-the-park grand slam hit every time, no matter the kind of pitch! Jesus does not strikeout! I'll leave you with this beautiful, encouraging Pauline text: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28, ESV).

Notes 1 Please, do not misunderstand me as saying that all evil and suffering is our own doing, for that would place me on the wrong side of Job's misguided friends. Suffering happens for all kinds of reasons, many of which we do not understand. While we do, at times, cause our own suffering, as James pointed out, sometimes suffering comes out of nowhere without our own creating (see Job 1–2). Yes, suffering happens sometimes because of our own poor choices, but, at other times, it happens because of the wrongful exercise of free will by others, especially Satan. And sometimes evil happens because of the parameters established by God for the great controversy. Whatever the cause, we can thank God for the strength he wishes to give us to see us through it all. For a helpful read on this subject, see John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

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