Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Baseball in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn's book Wait Until Then is a beautiful story for children, particularly boys.  Through the short and simple story of a grandpa dying of cancer while mentoring his wheelchair-bound grandson Nathan, Alcorn models a Christian view of suffering, death, and eternity.  This would be a good book to read with a child who is experiencing the sickness or death of a good friend or beloved relative.

This is a hard book to criticize (the illustrations alone are so beautiful you almost want to put them on the wall) but I do have a few concerns.

Dr. Alcorn uses baseball as a common interest that both Gramps and Nathan share.  Nathan wonders whether they will play baseball in heaven.  Gramps says, "Well, there's a lot that I don't know.  But I do know God is our Father and fathers love to see their children play.  Since we'll have new bodies on the New Earth, we know we'll be able to play baseball... and since they'll be better bodies, I'm pretty sure our best baseball is still ahead of us."

I have two concerns here.  One is that baseball like many sports has become something of an idol in our culture.  Visit a major league game sometime and you'll see what I mean.  Neighbor boys playing ball in the empty corner lot is one thing (do any American boys still do that? or do they all play ball on their Xbox now?), but the billions of dollars and hours spent in watching other people toss the ball around is another thing.

Dr. Alcorn anticipates concern this by having Gramps tell Nathan, "It's fine to enjoy baseball.  But remember, everything we love should cause us to love Jesus more, not less."  But he doesn't explain how baseball should help us love Jesus more, and young readers could easily get the idea that we should love Jesus because He will, ultimately, feed our idols.  Baseball on the New Earth becomes the child-sized version of '72 virgins in paradise when you die'.

My second concern is that this actually diminishes the joy of heaven.  I am sure we will be able to play baseball on the New Earth, but I'm not sure anyone will want to.  Dr. Alcorn would probably accuse me of 'Christo-platonism' here (a fancy term he coined for being overly spiritual), but I'm not disputing that the New Earth will be very physical.  I just think the physical things we will be doing will be far more joyous and exciting and fulfilling than knocking a white ball around.  Baseball on the New Earth will probably be as attractive as playing pinocle is for most of us today.

Dr. Alcorn also intimates that our old pets will be with us on the New Earth.  The same two concerns apply.  I think that getting to see Rover again will not be high on our minds there, about as exciting as getting back our past fingernail clippings.

Lastly, the gospel presentation is short: "We need to say we're sorry for our sins, and accept {Jesus} as the one who died on the cross for us and came back to life.  Then God will forgive us."  While true, this is deficient.  In the context of the story, the gospel could easily be taken by children as simply a procedure they must follow to get their ticket to heaven.

But, if used by a parent who will take time to explain these "missing pieces", the book can still be a wonderful tool for teaching children that because of Jesus, we need not hate suffering or fear death.

I got this book for free through the Tyndale Rewards program.  I was not even required to write a review, but I earn points for more books by doing so!

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