The Cross and the St. Louis Cardinals
What does Jonathan Edwards have to do with baseball? It relates to how he saw the world. The technical term is typology — the mechanism of his God-entranced vision of all things. He explains,
God does purposely make and order one thing to be in agreeableness and harmony with another. And if so, why should not we suppose that he makes the inferior in imitation of the superior, the material of the spiritual, on purpose to have a resemblance and shadow of them? We see that even in the material world God makes one part of it strangely to agree with another; and why it is not reasonable to suppose he makes the whole as a shadow of the spiritual world? . . . ("Images of Diving Things," A Jonathan Edwards Reader, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], 16).
Edwards saw it in the experience of walking down a hill, in the diet of ravens, and in the life of silkworms. And sports fans just saw it in the 2011 World Series.
The World Series, Really?
What made this Series so great wasn’t the mere fact that I love the St. Louis Cardinals and they won. It was the whole manner of how it happened. It's the fact that the Cardinals were trailing 10.5 games on August 25. They had no chance of making the playoffs, it seemed. It was the time to start looking at next year—the time when the "maybe-next-season" wishes are reluctantly announced.
But then they started winning. Their late-season success allowed them to slip into the playoffs on the final game of the season. That was amazing enough. Then they beat the league-best Phillies. Then the potent Brewers. And then there they were—like out of no where—in the World Series.
Learning from Edwards, let’s keep tracking the "agreeableness and harmony" that goes much deeper than America’s pastime. The Cardinals were the underdog, if there ever were one. They shouldn't even be in the playoffs, not to mention in the World Series competing against the repeat American League champion Texas Rangers. Every commentator wrote them off — "it was nice they made it this far, but they just aren’t championship caliber."
When Texas won two in a row to take a 3-2 series lead, we expected that the Cards would finally fold. And during Game 6, when they came down to one out and one strike away from losing — twice! — hopes were dashed for Cardinal Nation. The consoling began, remembering the season really should have ended in September, that they really didn't have a World Series-quality team, that it's time again to start the "maybe next season" concessions.
The team’s weakness at last was seen as weakness, and the dream of winning the World Series was confronted with the reality that things really don't happen this way. It was like a Friday afternoon wake-up call from Golgotha.
But wait a minute. Isn’t this the way all the best stories go? Cue Edwards.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, but it could have been a stallion leading an unbeatable legion of Jewish revolutionaries. He could have been taller, a handsome king that looked more like a Disney prince instead of a Galilean peasant. There could have been no agony, no cross, no tomb. There could have been, but there wasn’t.
When Hope Seems Lost
And this was God’s design — in his universe, there is more beauty when victory rises out of weakness. The morning shines brighter after a tumultuousness night. The glory is greater at the end of three silent days, when the Lamb has been slain, when all hope seems lost.
That’s where this World Series was pointing. Game 6 made this clear. The Cardinals were finished. It was over. Over. Well, over until David Freese's two-run triple in the bottom of the 9th, then Berkman's RBI single in the 10th, then Freese's walk-off homer in the 11th. Almost too good to be true. Like an out-of-breath Mary flinging open the disciples’ door to announce an empty tomb. Then Game 7 came, and the Cards won that one, too.
It was an unforgettable Series, one that reaches deep into the human soul, resonating with the imprint of our Creator and reminding us why the good stories are, well, so good.