What the UofL Scandal Teaches Us About Ultimate Hope

The College Basketball scandal that rocked the University of Louisville this past week has deeply disappointed every loyal Cardinal fan — me included. I’ve asked myself why this ongoing ordeal has left me so empty and depressed. Was it because I am in danger of having an enjoyable hobby taken away or is it because college basketball is too important to me? Is it because I care about the people who are directly impacted or because sports have become a false god?

It’s healthy to have a meaningful hobby — an outside interest that serves as a temporary diversion from our daily routine.  Someone suggested that we all need three things for life to be meaningful: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for. Positive hobbies give us something to hope for in the immediate future whether it’s hiking, motorcycling, fishing, golfing or scrap-booking.

Thousands in this area look forward to college basketball games during the winter months. Kentucky’s favorite pastime provides an anticipated relief from our daily pressures and a change of pace to what is sometimes a monotonous existence. We look forward to the next crucial basketball game, and we enjoy speculating about where our team will be placed in the NCAA tournament. That’s a good thing.

The danger with any hobby is that it can become an obsession and can, in a very real sense, become our god. It consumes our thought-life, dominates our conversation, drains our resources and dictates our mood. Nothing matters more. That’s when we violate the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

I once officiated at a wedding that was delayed for half an hour because the annual UK-UL basketball game went into overtime and the groomsmen refused to pull away from watching it on television in the waiting room. Preachers in college towns tell me their church attendance declines by more than 10% if the local team loses on Saturday night. I’ve seen people watch a basketball game on their iPad during their child’s Christmas play. Kentucky churches have changed the time of their regular scheduled service because it conflicted with a NCAA tournament game. I’ve heard worship leaders begin a church service by praising the local team’s victory the night before rather than praising God’s greatness. We smile about our basketball obsession, but our emphasis on sports can get way out of whack!

Now it looks like “The biggest college basketball scandal ever” could undermine the temporary hopes of multitudes of people. Fans are asking, “What if my team is ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament?” “What if we get the death penalty and there’s no team at all?” “What do we have to look forward to that will pull us through the long, dreary winter days?”

I understand those questions, and honestly, I share those concerns. And I cringe when rival fans gloat and verbally kick their wounded friends in the gut, thus demonstrating what really matters most to them as well.

You know what? The sun still came up today, and it was a beautiful day. Compared to what people in Puerto Rico are facing, our problems aren’t all that important. Maybe this is a good time for all of us to get a life. Maybe some of us need to admit sports have become too important to us. Maybe we’ve contributed to the corruption that may impact many University basketball programs because our priorities are inverted.

As followers of Christ, let’s remember where our real hope lies. First Peter 1:3 reads, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” All other hopes are dying hopes. Only Jesus is a living hope.

Our hope isn’t in our favorite athletic teams — they let us down. Our hope isn’t in politicians  — they’re inept. Our hope isn’t in our country — its foundations are crumbling. Our hope isn’t in this world — it could be blown up by a nuclear exchange any day. Our ultimate hope isn’t in our family either — our loved ones disappoint and die.

Our ultimate hope must be based on Jesus Christ. He provides us with “…a living hope… that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven for you.” Jesus alone is to be worshipped and praised. A hundred years from now basketball won’t matter because, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).

In the sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

If our main interest is sports, then we’re like the foolish man Jesus told about who built his house on the sand. A storm will come someday and whisk it away, and we’ll be left with nothing. The old hymn summarizes today’s lesson well: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

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