If you are a baseball fan (or sports fan period, for that matter) then you are probably familiar with the story of Josh Hamilton, the former number-one draft pick turned out-of-work drug addict who found Jesus and rose up from the ashes of his addiction to ascend to the top of the baseball world.
From his much anticipated return to organized baseball with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007 to his election to the 2012 all-star game with 11,073,744 fan votes (the most in baseball history), Hamilton captivated the sports world with what seemed to be a feel-good story for the ages.
Sure, Hamilton was magic on the field, with a then-record 28 home runs in the first round of the 2008 All-Star Game home run derby and that 2010 season when he was awarded the AL Player’s Choice Award for Outstanding Player, the ALCS MVP award, and the AL MVP award, but he was just as solid off the field as well.
Josh spent his spare time speaking to youth groups and civic organizations about the dangers of substance abuse. He authored a book chronicling his life story titled Beyond Belief. He submitted to multiple drug tests every week and traveled with an “accountability partner” while on the road. Josh reached the pinnacle of success in December 2012 when he agreed in principle to a 5-year contract worth $125 million with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Life was good.
But on February 26, all of that came tumbling down. That was the day that multiple media outlets broke the news concerning Josh’s relapse in his battle with substance abuse and his pending suspension from Major League Baseball.
According to an anonymous source within the MLB, Hamilton is not considered a first-time offender, and so his suspension could result in him being sidelined for anywhere from 25 to 50 games. Since players under suspension are not paid, Josh would lose an estimated $4.17 million per month – or $138,888 per day – of his salary while he is away from the game.
And that’s just taking the money factor into account. When you consider all of the intangible collateral damage like the harm to Hamilton’s reputation in the Major Leagues, the inevitable strain on his marriage and the effects on his four daughters, the costs associated with this relapse trend upward toward the incalculable.
What would possess someone who has so much to risk it all for an all-too-brief moment of pleasure? That question that so many are asking concerning Josh Hamilton could be asked of all who are trapped in the cycle of addictive behavior, no matter what the specific addiction might be.
Why make self-destructive choices? Why make the conscious decision to engage in behavior that will cause harm and that if continued will ultimately bring personal destruction? Is it all just chemicals and brain synapses firing in a particular order, or is there something deeper at play?
At the risk of over-simplification, I think the issue ultimately boils down to perceived pleasure versus perceived costs. We choose to engage in certain behaviors because at the moment of decision we believe that the pleasure that those actions will bring will be greater than the pain they will cause us in the long run.
That’s what makes the seduction of sin so dangerous. It promises pleasure now but hides the fact that its ultimate end is death and destruction. In His famous discourse that history has preserved as the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus raised a banner of truth intended to rally His listeners to forsake the temporary pleasures of sin for the promise of greater joy: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
This is what will give Josh Hamilton and me and all fellow strugglers the ability to persevere in our quest to forsake sin and embrace righteousness – the hope that the joy of seeing God face-to-face and spending eternity in His presence will far outweigh any fleeting pleasure that sin might offer today.
So fight on, Josh Hamilton. The night seems dark now, but joy comes in the morning.