We’re Not Playing Games

The ancient and enduring game of chess is able to help train the mind to plan ahead, to respond decisively, and to handle the unforeseen. These are crucial skills for life with all its rows, columns, diagonals, and “L” shaped aspects of circumstance. Foresight, resolve, and resilience are invaluable assets when far more is at stake than any tournament’s temporal prize or fleeting thrill.

The apparatus for playing western chess (Asia boasts a few different versions of the ancient game) has unmistakeable contrast built in. The square board on which the game is played consists of 64 smaller squares, all of equal size: 32 of them are white and 32 are black, arranged in a simple checkered pattern. The playing pieces consist of two opposing forces or armies. The two human players are designated White and Black, and their respective battle forces of King, Queen, Bishops, Knights, Castles (Rooks), and Pawns bear those respective colors.

As in the pretend warfare of chess, so in real life there is an ongoing, cosmic battle between two kingdoms. The kingdom of darkness, sin, bondage, and death has a usurping, wicked ruler: Satan. The Kingdom of light, holiness, freedom, and life is led by the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the rightful King of all creation. These two kingdoms are locked in mortal combat. The eternal, indestructible, precious souls of men and women are the stakes.

Imagine if all 64 squares of the chess board were a seamless, uniform gray. There would be no knowing upon exactly which “square” any particular piece stood! And what if all the playing pieces were that very same shade of gray? There would be no way of identifying an “opposing” piece from one’s own! In such a wacky chess world, there could be no clear vision, no standards of discernment, nor any firm basis on which to make a move. Such a “game” would be judged at the very outset, by wise players, as doomed to an early and meaningless stalemate.

The microcosm of chess needs its white and black squares and its white and black playing pieces. Even so it is very necessary to use the eyes of faith and the mind of Christ (as His mind is given to us in holy Scripture) to see the whites and blacks of the spiritual universe. In chess, a molded plastic Bishop which is black is identical in form to a molded plastic Bishop which is white. In real life, the sons of the kingdom of darkness often have the same outward form as the sons of light. Jesus said that by their fruit you will know them. By their fruit you will know to which kingdom they belong. That is how we see spiritual contrasts.

As do all analogies, this one breaks down at some point. In the game of chess, an opposing piece is retired permanently from the current game when it is captured*. In real life, Christ’s strategy often is to transform, supernaturally, a son of the kingdom of darkness into a son of His kingdom. Thus the good and rightful King plunders the enemy kingdom, bringing good out of evil and rejoicing to His loyal subjects.

If we are to fight bravely alongside of the King of light against the king of darkness, we can not make believe that morality is relative. The King says that the real world is one in which the eternal God has told man, “Yes, this is good”, and “No, this is evil”. We do not live in a universal gray area wherein Yes and No have blended to produce a constant Maybe. The Bible, our King’s standing orders, bids us to see the profound contrasts: to see the definite white areas and black areas of the ethical landscape. It directs us to plan, to respond to whatsoever comes to pass, and to handle all our affairs accordingly.

* Actually, there is a variant of western Chess that imitates Shogi, or Japanese Chess. It is called Loop Chess or Chessgi, and captured pieces can be “re-enlisted” in the army of the capturer.

Previously published elsewhere

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