John Montgomery Ward (yes, of those Montgomery Wards) pitched the second perfect game in Major League Baseball history on June 17, 1880 – 137 years ago – a 5-0 victory for Providence over Buffalo. He pitched it just five days after the first perfect game was pitched by J. Lee Richmond. Another perfect game would not be pitched until Cy Young shut down Philadelphia on May 5th, 1904. Some purists believe there should be an asterisk by Ward’s name. Because the start time of the game had been moved up from 3:30 pm to11:00 am to allow for an afternoon event, every batter Ward faced was looking squarely into the sun. Of course every Providence batter squinted into the same sun, and they still managed to score 5 runs – but some think this unfair advantage diminishes Ward’s accomplishment.**
Some purists try to put an asterisk next to just about every name in the record books. Some say Emit Smith, and Walter Peyton before him should have an asterisk next to their records for career rushing yards since they played 14 and 16 game seasons, while Jim Brown played 12 game seasons. Many believe Barry Bonds should have an asterisk next to his career and single season home run records since he almost certainly used performance enhancing drugs. Others argue that Babe Ruth had plenty of chemicals in his veins back in the day, although I don’t think alcohol and nicotine ever enhanced anyone’s performance.
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all (9.11). We can point to almost any human achievement and find elements of advantage, coincidence, and dumb luck that made it possible. Once you start slapping on asterisks, where do you stop?
On judgment day, when all our deeds are scrutinized, our failures will be indefensible for God has given us the resources to succeed (II Peter 1.3), and has managed our challenges so that they are not more than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10.13). But our successes – will we be able to truly own them? How many of our good deeds are done selfishly, or even accidentally? How often are they so poorly planned that without a huge dollop of luck they would have imploded? Since every circumstance will be exposed, how many moments of unmitigated goodness will any of us have to our names? How many of our achievements will stand without an asterisk?
This is true for us all - for every human who lives, has lived, or will live – except for Jesus. Jesus’ life admits no asterisks. He is perfect (Hebrews 4.15). Therefore, we are blessed that when God sees us He sees Jesus, because as Christians we wear Christ: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3.27).
When God sees us he sees Jesus. We put Him on in baptism, and unless we take Him off through rebellion or neglect, He envelops us. We are saved because of Jesus, not because of ourselves – it is the Gift of God (Ephesians 2.8). My salvation is not my own – it has been given to me. Thus in the Book of Life, my entry would read:
Barry E. Bryson, b. 4/24/1962: Saved.*
**Perfect, James Buckley Jr., 2002, pp.19-29.