I saw one for the first time when I was in 4th grade. It was a hardball. I know that we usually use the term “hardball” to differentiate a baseball from a softball, but this was no baseball; it was a true hardball. A kid named Chris brought it to school; he was a guy with crew-cut hair and hands permanently stained from playing in red-clay dirt. A group of us were playing tag when Chris showed up with this thing in his hand. “Who wants to play?” he asked. If I remember correctly, we tried to run away; after all, it was a hardball.
It was a little smaller than a baseball, but was not made of a leather-cased, rubber core wrapped with twine. This ball was solid, fashioned from some sort of high-density material, with a seam running around it like an equator. The surface was scarred and pocked from impacts against brick walls and gravel driveways. This was no toy; it was a miniature planet – a world of hurt. He held it up in the sun for us to see and chided us for our cowardice.
“What if it hits one of us?” a friend asked.
“Do you know how much that would hurt?” asked another. Someone suggested that we roll the ball to one another. Others nodded with enthusiasm, rolling seemed so much safer.
Chris snorted, “You throw hardballs.”
And that’s what we did. At times, seeing that ball drop down from a blue sky toward you, the only thing you could think was, “It’s going too fast. It will slip through my fingers and hit my head.” And sometimes you would sidestep the hurtling little planet and watch as it thumped against the ground leaving a sharply-defined crater near your feet. But, at other times, you would step up, stretch out your hands, and catch it.
God plays hardball. He is a loving God, a God of comfort, and a merciful God, yet he is a God of truth. He plays hardball. John gives us the response of some of Jesus’ disciples after hearing him teach on the subject of how he would lead those who follow him fully to eternal life: “Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60). John goes on to write that “from that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more” (v. 66). When the demands of following Jesus were made clear, many could not stomach the level of sacrifice to which he called them and the depth of truth he revealed to them. The hardball was pitched, and they stepped out of the way.
Having taught high school English for some years, I developed one unit about knowing and acting upon the truth of a matter. At the beginning of that unit, I would always ask the same question: “Would you rather hear the hard truth and possibly have to make corrections to your life, or believe a “soft” lie and remain comfortable, not having to change anything?” Most students chose the second option: the comfortable, soft, non-challenging lie. That’s what Jesus encountered. “Don’t give me the truth, give me something easy.” His followers wanted the comfort of the miracles but cared little for the core of the message. Sidestep the hardball, let it fall to the ground; it’s safer that way.
Perhaps God is playing hardball with you. Maybe you’ve been reading his word, and he has pitched a ball to you. You are in the game, but then you see it dropping out of the sky, and think, “I should step aside.” Or maybe you would say, “God, why don’t you roll the ball to me? It’s safer.” Maybe you’ve grown so scared and discouraged that you’ve stepped from the game. Don’t step aside, don’t complain and get back in the game. Step up to the truth, even if the corrections you face are painful. Remember, his goal is to make you like Christ: “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
We would have “spiritual ears” to hear and understand the teaching of Jesus. – Matthew 11:15 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
We would follow Christ fully, regardless of what it might cost us. – Matthew 10:38 “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
We will know that even the hardest commands of Jesus are given out of his love. – Mark 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
We would refuse to “sidestep” God’s truth, but receive it with joy and hold fast to it with endurance. – John 8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”