Playing Games With God

Despite how we act or how much we hope, it is impossible to outwit God.

by Bob Hostetler

Two men leaned over a kitchen table one Saturday afternoon playing Scrabble. It was mid-December 1979 and, so the story goes, one of them wondered aloud, “Think how many Scrabble games have been sold.”

The other added, “Imagine how much money a person could make just by inventing a game!”

Forty-five minutes later, Chris Haney and Scott Abott had devised Trivial Pursuit. The game, of course, became a wild success within a few years, making its creators into millionaires.

The success of games such as Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit emphasizes that people love to play games. They’ve been doing it since the Garden of Eden, when the first couple played a game of hide-and-seek with their Creator. They were the first — but by no means the last — to do so. Humanity has been playing games with God ever since.

A waiting game

The Roman governor of Palestine sat transfixed under the powerful preaching of Paul, one of the first missionaries. He saw the blazing earnestness in this missionary’s eyes, heard the truth presented, and felt the working of God’s presence in his heart. But the biblical record says Felix interrupted Paul’s preaching, saying, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you” (see Acts 24:25).

Felix let the demands of the gospel and the claims of God on his soul wait for a more convenient time. He was not ready to change his lifestyle; he did not want to send his lover back to her husband. He preferred to keep God on reserve, to play a waiting game with God. Of course, God has all the time in the world; Felix didn’t.

A shell game

Ahaz was a king of Judah. Once on a trip to the city of Damascus, he saw a beautiful altar. It displayed intricate carvings of pagan gods and had an air of mystery about it. This altar so fascinated Ahaz that, upon his return, he had a duplicate installed in the temple in Jerusalem.

Not only that, but Ahaz decided to play a little “shell game” with that altar and the altar of the Lord, the one true God. He positioned the heathen altar in a place of prominence in the temple and relegated God’s altar to a hidden corner. Then Ahaz informed the priests that the daily offerings would be made on the Assyrian artifact; he would use the Lord’s altar “for seeking guidance.” In this way, Ahaz thought he could keep God handy, in case of emergency. He thought he could, by sleight of hand, switch allegiances according to his mood.

But Ahaz fooled no one but himself. Eventually, his shell game led to outright rebellion against God.

A bluffing game

In the book of Acts Luke describes the astounding generosity of the early church. “From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and . . . it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:34, 35). As a result, “There were no needy persons among them.”

A man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold a piece of property, just as many others had done. However, this couple kept part of the money and, apparently eager to be applauded and honored in the church, pretended to surrender the full price of the sale to the apostles. Peter confronted the couple with their lie, asking, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?” (5:3).

Why had they conspired to “test the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 9)? Ananias and Sapphira attempted to play a bluffing game with God. They not only supposed they could deceive the church, but also sought to trick the Holy Spirit! But God saw through their game and called their bluff. Before the day was over, this couple had paid the price of their game with their lives.

Name your game

Perhaps you have been playing games with God, a game like one of those mentioned earlier. Or maybe you’ve been playing a game of your own invention. The experiences of men and women like Felix, Ahaz, Ananias, and Sapphira emphasize how foolish and futile it is to play games with God. How much better it is to follow the examples of those who responded to God honestly and completely.

Two such people were David and Peter. Though they loved God, they had faults and still failed Him at times. David was guilty of adultery; Peter deserted and denied Jesus. But when they approached God honestly and openly, He responded with forgiveness, blessings, and honor. Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7, 8).

If you have been playing games with God, take the opportunity now — today — to submit yourself to Him. Be honest with Him. Admit your failures and confess your sins. Search your heart carefully and open it completely to His penetrating gaze. When you pray to God in honesty and sincerity, He will hear and answer. You then need only to accept His forgiveness and determine to serve Him wholeheartedly.

A game such as Scrabble can draw people together. Games with God, however, only serve to keep us separated from His truth and love.