My 9-year-old son was playing a “tycoon” game on the computer, where the player develops a city, amusement park, factory, or other attraction, with the hope of earning virtual money and (typically) persuading virtual “people” to visit. As I often do to the kids when they are playing video games, I asked him, “Are you winning?” He said, “I’m not sure that you can win this game. You just keep getting better.”
The fact is, video games often put challenges in front of the player, and reward victories by making the player’s character, avatar, or empire more powerful. The result of this is that more powerful enemies can be fought. This creates new challenges, which – when overcome – allow the character to level up…repeating the cycle.
A game like this stops being fun, though, when there is no incentive to keep running on this hamster wheel, just to keep going in the game. Unless there is exploration, community, new challenges, or some sort of social status to be gained, why keep grinding away at opponents that you realize are just re-skinned versions of those you started with?
The fact is, we can get stuck on the same treadmill in life. We strive for a promotion or a pay raise, so that we can make a little more money and afford new things. When those don’t satisfy us, we need to work extra hard for the next promotion or raise, so that we can…repeat the cycle.
I’m not trying to be a downer, here. We should strive to do our best with what God has given us (both in terms of our abilities and our opportunities). However, there has to be something more than just “leveling up” in life to hold our interest.
The bad news is that, in our time on earth, we’ll never “beat the game”. There is always something else to be achieved, and our finite lives won’t allow us to be the best at everything.
However, there is an end game: a finish line where the game reaches the closing “cut scene”, and the final outcome is calculated. There are no more achievements, no replaying levels to try and improve our score.
Before that time, though, we have a choice: We can idle away, and wait for the game to come to an end (like a massive combo that takes a while to finish playing out, even after a boss is defeated). Or, we can look beyond a single point to eternity. Eventually, this mission of ours is going to be completed, and our accomplishments will be tallied up. Only the investments we’ve made on earth for purposes that transcend our finite lives will remain.
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NASB
Like a game that has long since been beat and uninstalled, only the achievements will remain on our account. Other people who accepted Jesus, perhaps because we showed them what He is like, will join us in Heaven. God will be pleased with our service to Him. The relationship that we have built with God will continue and grow in eternity.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
Matthew 25:34-36 NASB
(See all of Matthew 25:34-40 for even more details.)
May we not just grind away at things that don’t matter, but rather work for the achievements that will outlast this “playthrough” that we call life.