Finishing the Fight: The Bittersweet Taste of the End Game (2 Timothy 4)

I have fallen prey to this more times than I can count… that deep feeling of melancholy associated with reaching the final endgame sequence in a well-told video game story.  After spending dozens of hours trying to stem the Reaper threat in Mass Effect, dispatching hundreds of enemies en route to a final Warthog run across a disintegrating Halo ring, or simply seeing the words “World 8-4” on a Mario title, for some reason I feel less than elated to have reached what I realize is the end of my journey with these characters and the world I have inhabited vicariously through them.  It is that moment when all of your party members have received a nice tidy bow on their story, all the lower level enemies have been dispatched, the side missions have all been completed, the musical score has changed to a more subtle, haunting refrain of the battle music that has pumped you up across your journey thus far, and all that remains is your final boss on the other side of the last door.  You know that moment.  It is the point of no return.  I have sat holding the controller many a time simply soaking in this moment, not because I am excited to reach the finale, but because now that I am at the threshold I am not sure I am ready to cross the line that will trigger the final sequences of a voyage I am not prepared to let go of yet.

I am not sure I am ready to cross the line that will trigger the final sequences of a voyage I am not prepared to let go of yet.

I could have chosen a myriad of titles for an example, but I landed on an old classic that occupies a special place in my heart, Final Fantasy X.  This is an experience that is near and dear to many gamer’s hearts but there is a unique reason why it stands out for me.  See, I went into this game already determined to dislike it because I was late to the party.  It was already at greatest hits status when I begrudgingly gave it a chance, sourly approaching the turn based combat and awkward dialogue as one would sniff at a gallon of milk that is beyond it’s expiration date.  Cautious pessimism was the name of the game as I mocked the game’s protagonist and his random childish outbursts.  But over the hours something happened.  I began to find a rhythm within the combat structure, I warmed to the characters and began to gain tremendous interest in the over-arching story, and as I approached the climax of the adventure I realized I had become invested in their plight and engrossed in their world, as alien as it is to our actual physical existence.  I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet, and as the ending drew near I found myself engaging in countless small diversions to prolong the inevitable.  I have never pretended to be a 100% completionist on most titles, but for the ones I truly love I do it not for pride or status, but simply because I want to delay the finale for just a few more minutes.

As the ending drew near I found myself engaging in countless small diversions to prolong the inevitable.

So here I was, on the precipice of the final battle and the series of cutscenes and events that would put a period on this story and potentially end the stories and maybe even the lives of several of my virtual friends.  In a world where true heartache exists around every corner and actual tragedy strikes far too often I will admit I feel guilty for having feelings associated with these lines of code that make up a gaming character, but I also believe it is through these stories and yes, even these virtual people that many profound thoughts and emotions can connect with a heart and help us make sense of many real world struggles.  So please indulge me as I draw a few parallel lines from these “scripted moments” to an actual heartbreaking scenario that played out about 2,000 years ago in a cold prison cell as an imprisoned, aged, abandoned man of God named Paul wrote his final recorded words in one last letter to his protege.

You can sense the urgency mixed with an awareness that the end was near as Paul states, “The time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”

I feel the same sense of sadness I discussed earlier when reading through the book of 2 Timothy.  My favorite way to read it is to imagine I am there in the cell with Paul as he delivers this heartfelt message to the man who was the closest person he had to a son, to family, in his final dark days.  As he explains in the text, he is now alone as his fellow missionaries have moved on to other places, and an air of finality is couched in every paragraph as he provides encouragement, guidance, protective words, and a few final personal requests to his co-worker and friend Timothy.  Feel the passion in his voice as he warns the young pastor about those who are spreading false doctrines while encouraging him to keep to the faith he was hand taught by the Apostle.  Listen to the wisdom of a life lived in committed service to God as he admonishes Timothy to avoid the entanglements that will prevent him from fulfilling the entirety of his calling.  You can sense the urgency mixed with an awareness that the end was near as Paul states, “The time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”  And as we move to the final words of this mighty man of God who sacrificed all of the comforts of a family, a safe career, and a simple life for the pursuit of an adventure that would travel most of the known world as the greatest evangelist who ever lived, we see the humanity of Paul peeking out from behind the page.

Gaze into his final requests and see that this man who through Christ changed not only the world of his time, but for all time, as he humbly requests a coat he had given to someone else to keep him warm and a few books  to study in his last days.  As he lists those who have either abandoned him, moved on, or actively fought against him my heart aches, and despite already knowing how this story ends I find myself hoping against hope  that Timothy arrives in time with a warm coat and a hug for this faithful warrior, and that Paul escapes his death sentence just one more time.

Paul rises up with conviction even in the midst of his current affliction and says “This is not the end!  There is a crown waiting for me on the other side, and the Lord who gave me the strength to fulfill my destiny here on earth is the same Lord who will carry me not to the end, but through it to a new beginning  in a heavenly place.”

In my minds eye I grab Paul’s hand and encourage him, “Timothy is on his way!  You have survived much worse than this so many times, this prison will not be your final resting place!”  But Paul, clearly knowing this is the last walk down the green mile, has a simple message not just for me, but for all of us.  In 2 Timothy 4 verses 7-8 and 17-18 his  words stretch across time to every heart that is either at the end of their race or perhaps struggling to watch as a loved one begins the final journey home.  Paul rises up with conviction even in the midst of his current affliction and says “This is not the end!  There is a crown waiting for me on the other side, and the Lord who gave me the strength to fulfill my destiny here on earth is the same Lord who will carry me not to the end, but through it to a new beginning  in a heavenly place.”

The final steps for every life will always have a taste of the bittersweet, and in our society that is bent on finding new ways to cheat the aging process and even death itself the message from God’s word still resolutely stands that it is appointed to all mankind to die, to return to the dust we came from.  The mortality rate remains at 100% after all these years, but much like the final steps I was taking towards the final boss in my gaming experience, I take comfort in knowing these real world steps were also orchestrated and structured to lead me to my final “appointment”.  My final breath will not be random, regardless of how it may appear to those I leave behind.  My story was built along with the endgame sequence before I drew my first breath by the Master script author, and the Spoiler Alert here is that the story will continue on an entirely new platform once these credits roll.

I take comfort in knowing these real world steps were also orchestrated and structured to lead me to my final “appointment”.

I still feel the gentle tug of sadness every time I reach the end of a story that I care about, or when the inevitable ending of a journey I have thoroughly enjoyed draws near.  But for those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ we can rejoice in knowing this life was merely the beta version of our future experience with Him in eternity…  a life where all the bugs and glitches have been removed and the full vision of His plan for us is realized in a glorious paradise that He has been preparing for us from the moment He ascended back to Heaven.  The final boss in our game has already been defeated and we are merely finishing our race like the Apostle Paul so bravely demonstrated for us.  So I encourage you to run your race in such a way that you, like Paul, can also say at the end that you have finished the destiny that was laid out for you and you can almost see the crown that awaits you on the other side.

 

 

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