Connie and I tend not to watch too much basketball, but starting with March Madness and the Sweet Sixteen we really get into it. Those games are extremely competitive and almost always very close.
A special characteristic of the playoffs is that the winning team advances, but for the losing team the season is over. They go home in defeat. There is no rematch. There are no second-place accolades. All is lost.
Losing is especially hard because often hope stays alive until the last couple of minutes, or even seconds before the end of the game. Therefore, just a few minutes earlier they had visions of winning, going to the next level, making it to the Final Four, and being national champions. Now all those aspirations are dashed. I find my heart going out to these players. As the television cameras focus in on them, some of them hide their faces and start to weep. For them it is a crushing moment.
What a contrast to those on the other end of the court who are hugging each other, giving each other high fives, and being congratulated by their fans, with some even shedding tears of joy.
Winning the final game especially produces a time of unmitigated joy—ultimate victory with all of the commensurate recognition that will be bestowed on them at their school and among basketball fans for years to come.
Yesterday as I watched this scene and found myself empathizing with both the losers and winners as the finality of it all settled in. I thought had to how much more intense the winning and losing of the championship game will be.
As I observed this outpouring of emotion my mind went to a similar scene of an infinitely greater consequence that will result in the outpouring of an astronomically greater intensity of emotion. Imagine what it will be like at that judgment when God pronounces damnation on a large multitude of people, consigning them to an eternity in hell. It is virtually impossible to imagine the incredible devastation that those people will feel. Likewise, it is difficult to comprehend the joy of those who will be invited to spend eternity in heaven with the Lord.
Depending on one’s eschatology, these pronouncements can happen at different times and in different places, but that is irrelevant to the point that I am making. Whether it all happens at the end of history as opposed to different judgments for different groups at different times, the fact is that every human being will either hear God pronounced them eternally lost or eternally saved.
This reality is graphically expressed in the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats recorded in Matthew 25. To those on his right hand he will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34 NKJV) To those on His left hand He will pronounce, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41 NKJV)
We also find God’s judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Observing the joy of the winners and the devastation of the losers during the championship games provides us with an extremely faint depiction of the ultimate pronouncement of winners and losers. Hopefully that portrayal will help us all to focus on what really matters in life.