Almost Perfect: the Beauty of Forgiveness

The missed call

I just realized how long it has been since my last post – must be writer’s block I suppose.  Sometimes one needs to just keep writing to get through it so here are a few simple thoughts about a well-known news event from the past week.

Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was pitching a perfect game until the last out of the ninth inning when the opposing batter hit a slow ground ball to the first baseman.  The first-base umpire, Jim Joyce, called the batter safe, ending the perfect game.  The replay showed clearly that the batter was out by at least a step.  The blown call cost Galarraga what would have been only the 21st game in major league history, and thus baseball immortality, and earned Joyce immediate public scorn, even threats of physical harm.

Both Joyce’s and Galarraga’s response epitomized the virtues of sportsmanship.  Rather than defend himself, Joyce admitted after the game, in tears, that he blew the call.  Such an admission itself is rare:  umpires judgments are final on the field; therefore, they must carefully protect their authority, especially in public comments.  Galarraga then forgave Joyce, acknowledging that that the umpire probably felt worse about what happened than anyone.

The humility to ask for forgiveness for an injustice and the mercy to grant it are widely admired in our culture (though sadly not widely practiced).  Why?  As Chuck Colson points out, these were not considered virtues in the ancient world (they were regarded as signs of weakness), but were ingrained into Western culture by Christianity which teaches that we should forgive the sins of others as we ourselves have been forgiven by God.  The gospel – that the Son of God died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins – brings cosmic meaning to the words “I admit I was wrong” and “I forgive you,” some of the most beautiful words in our language.

Perhaps forgiveness is uncommon because it is difficult to do – difficult because it is costly.  When someone wrongs you a debt is incurred by the perpetrator:  he owes you.  The easy, and natural, path is to extract the debt and make the person pay in the name of justice – or vengeance.  Forgiveness requires not extracting the debt but doing the difficult work of paying the debt ourselves.  This is one reason why Jesus had to die in order for us to be forgiven.  Forgiveness is costly and someone has to pay.  Jesus willingly paid this price so that our debts could be cleared.  He calls those who have received this forgiveness to go and do likewise.

If you are a follower of Christ, I challenge you to use the conversation about this event to raise questions with seeking friends about our need for forgiveness and why granting forgiveness is the right thing to do.

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