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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Sports Show Our Best Life Is Later

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The Los Angeles Rams probably should not be playing in the Super Bowl.

You likely know what happened a couple weeks ago in the NFC Championship Game; a non-call on what was clearly pass interference (more like pass assaulting) on New Orleans Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis with 1:43 left in the game opened the door to an improbable Los Angeles victory in overtime.

Outrage from NFL players, fans, media, bloggers—even politicians—exploded with the ferocity of an arctic vortex. Numerous players took to Twitter to demand accountability and discipline for the errant officials, who hailed from Los Angeles. Fire the referees! Fire NFL commissioner Roger Goodell! The game’s integrity demands it, many cried.

Football fans want justice—and well they should. They’ve been created to crave justice.

We All Crave Justice

All of us, as image-bearers of God, crave justice but live in a world that so often never gives it. Sports affords many occasions to cope with this reality. This dark side of sports has given me opportunity to prepare my two sons for the brutal disappointments they’ll face in life. My sons inherited their dad’s zeal for the games people play, particularly baseball and college football. We’ve still not quite healed from the heartache of our Georgia Bulldogs losing the SEC championship to Alabama in the closing seconds a few weeks ago. For 58 minutes, Georgia was the better team. But the better team doesn’t always win.

Such is life—good doesn’t always win; there’s not always a happy ending; second chances elude us. Yet we tend to live out of the convenient fantasy that if we just try hard enough, work hard enough, believe strongly enough, things will work out just the way we want. But the real world quickly explodes that notion, and my sons see it on the field and in rooting for their favorite teams.

Be All You Can Be?

My boys play baseball virtually year-round, and I’d love to tell them that if they stick with it and work hard enough, someday they’ll be the next Mike Trout, the next Manny Machado, the next Willie Mays. I will encourage them to put forth maximum effort. But I can’t promise the road of hard work will end in Cooperstown. No matter how many reps they get in cage or how hard they throw, even if they go in the first round of the MLB draft, they’ll probably never appear in the Show. Life is like that. The valedictorian never finishes college. The drop-out becomes a millionaire. Who can understand?

We also love sports because sometimes they inspire by giving us storybook endings. In 1983, Jim Valvano coached an underwhelming 10-loss North Carolina State team to the NCAA basketball championship. A decade later, he was diagnosed with glandular cancer. On the 10th anniversary of the Wolfpack’s championship, a physically depleted Valvano gave a famous speech noted for its courageous call: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Ten months later, Jimmy V was dead. Death steals our happy endings. Our heroes, like so many of our dreams, eventually grow old and die. We want justice to deliver a final benediction. But life instead ends with a whimper.

Justice Is Coming Soon

Even as I teach my boys that justice sometimes doesn’t come in this life, they know there is a different ending for all who follow Jesus. The psalmist often looks at life from this perspective. Psalm 73 is particularly vivid—there, Asaph ponders the question every son of Adam has probably asked at one time or another: “Why do the wicked prosper?” The psalmist had kept his heart clean, gone to church regularly, done the right thing—and yet, the unrepentant man has far outstripped him in worldly success. Unjust? Feels like it. The equation for success of God plus righteousness seems to have arrived at the wrong sum. But Asaph gets to God’s solution in verses 16–19 and 23–24:

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! . . . Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Asaph saw what we do as followers of Jesus: The Just has died for the unjust. Messiah has borne the wrath our sins deserve. He defeated death by coming out of the ground, securing a happy ending to every believer’s story.

In the end, believers don’t get justice; they receive mercy. Some day, everything crooked will be made straight. The wicked will get what they deserve, and the righteous will get what their Savior has won for them. Then, and only then, will there be full and perfect justice.

Parents, if you watch the Super Bowl this weekend and your team breaks your heart, don’t dismiss the pain of this fallen world. Tell your children about a Savior whose redeeming love gives heartbroken sinners the perfect justice and happy ending they are hardwired to crave.

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