Delayed Gratification

Is it important to wait? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

4,000 pieces of gold.

That’s a hefty price for a young man playing a game, but in the world of Final Fantasy at the time, that was a lot. Gold pieces were the main currency then and at the area of the game you were in, most battles gave 100-200 pieces. You would have to stay at the inn at times to recover which would cost 100 pieces of gold.

However, if you wanted to get the silver sword then, you had to pay 4,000 pieces of gold. Only one person likely in your party could equip it. The next most expensive weapon costs 450 gold. Still, there were other expensive items. A bracelet you could equip costs 1,000 and level 3 spells cost 1,500 to learn and level 4 costs 4,000 to learn.

(By the way, I had to look up the prices of other items aside from spells, but silver sword stuck with me.)

If you wanted to get this sword, you had to work for it. This kind of thing is something called grinding. Why? Just think of how your going to work can be called the daily grind. Some people do it just to gain experience to level their character up. Either way, most people don’t really like grinding. It’s very repetitive.

By the way,  I haven’t even mentioned buying healing items and deals like that for what can essentially be the first dungeon the party goes through in the game.

However, if someone engages in this in many a game, they are prepared not only for the next dungeon, but also for several later dungeons. Those who rush through because they just want to get on with the story are more likely to suffer and in the end, have to do their own form of grinding still when they keep encountering an obstacle they can’t get past and grinding can be much harder later on in a game.

Okay. This is interesting, but what has this to do with Christianity and apologetics?

As I thought about it, it came to mind that this is a lesson in delayed gratification. Consider this. How many problems in our society come because we do not like to wait? We live in an instant society. Everything we want comes immediately. We can put something in a microwave or get something out of the freezer or drive where we want to go and with the internet, we have instant communication. Paul would love to do in the Roman Empire what we can do today.

In some ways, that can be fine, but in others, if we think we have to wait for something, then we will suffer in the end for it often.

Let’s start with money where this started. How many people are in debt today not because they had to buy an expensive item like a house or needed emergency surgery that was really expensive, but because of out of control credit card debt? How many people just buy items constantly and don’t really think about the price?

I considered that my early habits in gaming came to influence my early thinking with money. I learned the value of money there and to this day, I make it a point to have money in the bank and be light with my spending. Because of that, when I do want to splurge, I normally can without much difficulty.

Recently, a friend gave me a pass to the World War II Museum here in New Orleans. I only had to pay for parking. When I was done going through the museum, I got to the gift shop which had books. I bought a couple of them there. It cost me some naturally, but I was able to handle it. This also after having a month where I had to go to the doctor twice for a really bad sinus infection after the conference, the second being a follow-up, and I currently have no health insurance.

Still, I have money in the bank and my money in savings I haven’t even had to touch since moving to New Orleans. I pay my bills responsibly and I use plenty of programs to get free Amazon gift cards and to get deals when I do have to go out into town. My parents were always frugal with money, but I think my experience in gaming where I had to save up to buy things and make sure I always had enough taught me just as much.

Not only that, but I realize that some of my money comes from donors. Thus, I want to make sure I honor the money that is given on my behalf. If you want to become a supporter of me financially, which is greatly appreciated, then you can do so here.

This also works in other areas of our life. Our country has a problem with obesity and most of us are eating not because we are hungry, but because we are bored. We also don’t want to wait, and why should we? We can get fast food which normally isn’t good. I think we all have experienced the event of sitting on a couch or chair watching something or playing a game and just snacking while there. We don’t move much, we exercise little, and what do we have as a result? Obesity.

Finally, what about sex? Who wants to actually have to wait until you’re married? People who went to school with my parents and get divorced are now living together before marriage. In their day in school, that was definitely the exception. Today, it is the norm.

We live in a world of one-night stands and a hook-up culture and why? Because why should we have to wait? It’s just sex. Not a big deal. Right? We say this in an age of single parents, unplanned pregnancies, STDs, and ultimately a miasma of meaningless hanging around us. The sexual revolution has been a disaster.

However, the option left is waiting and we don’t like that. Why have to wait? If you want something, get it now.

Maybe we should return to what I learned so long ago in Final Fantasy. It was hard to work and work and wait before I went into the dungeon in making sure all my characters had the best equipment and spells, but you know what? When I did that, we did much better than everyone else and were more prepared not just for that dungeon, but for every other later dungeon. Also, if I needed to grind again to buy better items, I did it again.

Patience is a virtue we don’t really have today, but we definitely need it. How many of our problems in our society could be dealt with better if we would just learn to wait? How much of what we go through would we be better prepared for if we just waited?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Playing To Win

How do you approach a challenge? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I know someone here at the seminary who was sexually abused as a child and now has a blog helping others to overcome this. You can see her work here. I read a new post she had yesterday and I started thinking about my attitude as I went through my own divorce.

Something I like about her blog is the idea of describing herself as a brave girl and to let the voice of a warrior be heard. That is a definitive choice on how to describe oneself. She had to make a deliberate choice at one point that she would face what she went through, be brave, and be a warrior and fight back.

I wrote about this before in how I had to make a choice. It would be foolish to deny that the impact of the divorce when it hit me hurt me greatly. I would also be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt me still every day, but I had to make a choice and I still have to make the choice. Will I be defeated by it or will I overcome it?

In looking at Life Is A Game, this book has resonated with me because I had that attitude. Some might think it to be frivolous, but the reality is, it works. We are often told that attitude is a big factor in how one overcomes. If two people of relatively equal health get a cancer diagnosis and one is positive about overcoming and one isn’t, all things being equal, the positive one is more likely to overcome it.

If you’re a gamer like me, you know the idea of what it is like to fight a boss. You enter an arena and all of a sudden this huge hulking monster that practically dwarfs you in ever way looms over you. In reality if this happened to us, most of us would probably be in a total panic. If you’re a gamer though, you can get nervous but you also think, “All right. Let’s do this.” That just ups the challenge level. It actually makes it more fun.

Why not live this way in reality more often? When a huge problem comes our way, why not see it as another challenge to overcome and we’ll be the better for it? Add in also that in the real world, we have the promise of a God in our lives that if we love Him, all things will work for our good. I have referred to this in gamer terms as the ultimate cheat code.

My friend had to make a deliberate choice that she would not be a victim all her life of abuse but would not only be an overcomer, but also help others to overcome. I had to make a decision that I would not be the victim of divorce. It’s why I made it a motto of mine to “play to win” and why I am here at seminary working on a Master’s and talking to a therapist here in person to help me with learning social skills. When I have friends here who help me with various things, these aren’t just friends. These are teammates on the journey. These are party members who are coming alongside and helping me fight my battles. Of course, I help them when I can in return, but I can only speak of what it is like from my own perspective.

To my friends who have helped me on the journey, thank you. I still have friends back in Tennessee and other parts of the world and I consider them helpers as well, and this includes my folks who I talk to every night on my Echo. To all of you out there also facing your own trial, play to win and while there’s no guarantee with someone like cancer or anything else, you can still fight with all your might. We are meant to be warriors.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Use Of Entertainment

Why is it that we enjoy what we enjoy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, in the midst of some gaming and watching some shows on YouTube, I returned to thinking about my life here in New Orleans. I have thought about how our country used to be much more Christian than it is now and yet New Orleans is now known as a hotbed of crime, drugs, and well, we all know what really goes on at Mardi Gras, which should sadly be a Christian celebration. What has happened to this great city and how can we change it?

Then I thought about how it has been said before by G.K. Chesterton that fairy tales don’t exist to tell us that dragons exist. Children already know that. Fairy tales exist to tell children that dragons can be beaten.

Let’s start this with a subject I don’t care for that much. Sports. For the most part, the idea of watching sports should be that someone goes and watches these people on the field and then decides that they want to be like that person and is willing to work out and practice the game too. Now for some, this is impossible and they can remember what they used to do or dream about what they might do in eternity someday. I think of those with severe disabilities or those who due to an older age cannot play like they used to.

Completely antithetical is the picture of someone who sits down on a couch to watch a game and goes through a whole box of Oreos at the same time. This is not to say you have to be a fitness king, but if you do care about sports, you should care about your own physical condition. Sports should get you out of yourself.

With fantasy, it is the same, whether we are talking about old Greek plays, novels like the Lord of the Rings, TV shows and movies, or video games. All of these are meant to give us heroes to emulate and people that we are to look and say “I can overcome what’s in my life as well.” With sports movies, we often have the story of the underdog, such as movies like Rocky or Rudy, where we know that the team or player we want to win will be the hero in the end because they never give up.

In the world of gaming, we have the same going on. A player playing a game can see a boss villain they have to fight that is gargantuan compared to them. In reality, most of us if we saw such a villain would not bother to really try even but start realizing that our time has come. In fantasy, it is the opposite. You are even more certain that you can win and you try again and again and again. The size of the enemy doesn’t make it impossible. It just makes the victory all the greater.

So it is also with every challenge that we face today. The Greeks told their plays I suspect in the hopes of spurring other young Greek men on to greatness. Hebrews tells us a list of heroes of the faith in an effort to say “Be like these people.” Today, we tell stories of people, real and fictional, in an effort to inspire greatness in us.

That should be the purpose of what we do today. If we are captivated by the battle of good and evil on the screen or in literature, we had sure better be fighting it in our own lives. If we believe that the villain can be overcome no matter what, we need to live accordingly as well. It could be tempting to say “That’s fiction, not reality”, but as Chesterton again said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves.” In fiction, the characters normally aren’t aware of a supreme deity watching over the story entirely. In reality, we should be, and that should change everything.

Enjoy the story, but also use it. If you care about sports, care about your own physical condition. If you care about the battle of good and evil, be ready to fight it yourself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 7

What kind of freedom do we have? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As an American citizen who was born here and has thus far never left the country, freedom is a big deal over here. It makes sense. The Pilgrims who came over here came in search of freedom. Our country fought a war in order for us to be free. We are called the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Many of us like freedom, but we don’t think about what it is. In Castronova’s book, we’re going to be looking at two different kinds of freedom. The former is freedom-of or freedom-to. In this, you are free to do what you want, within certain parameters of course. You are free to have an affair with your neighbor if both of you agree. You are not free to murder your neighbor, even if for some reason both of you agreed to this. (Perhaps a convoluted plot involving insurance fraud?)

This is a freedom we’re very big on today. A woman will proclaim proudly that she is free to have an abortion if she wants. If someone wants to do something that the world thinks is foolish, well it’s a free country. You want to go and eat donuts for every meal every day? You can do that.

Freedom like this is saying you are free to do what you want. Many of us value that freedom. However, there is a freedom that takes it a step further.

Aquinas spoke of a freedom where you can do something free from guilty, anxiety, and stress. This is not that you are free to do what you want so much as you are free to want what you do. It’s like the saying about a job. If you like what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.

What does this have to do with the book’s thesis? It has a lot to say about how we can try to cheat the system. Some will try to game reality to get as much as they can while everyone else around them loses. They are free to do this.

However, there are still some rules that cannot be broken. You cannot put $2 in your piggy bank and then $2 more and somehow have $5. You are free to jump off of a building if you want to, but gravity might have a word to say to you when you hit the bottom. You are free to commit some crimes, but your society might have something to say and put you in jail.

This also has something to say about suicide. You are free to do this, but once you do this, the game is over. Dead men do not play any games.

In our world, we often want the former freedom, but think somehow we can escape the consequences. If you sleep around continuously, you should be able to avoid pregnancy and STDs. You should be able to eat whatever you want and live a healthy lifestyle. You should be able to avoid studying and still be able to ace all the classes that you have. You should be able to be a deadbeat employee and still be kept on board and get a raise.

Such freedom doesn’t really exist. Every choice has consequences. There are tradeoffs with every decision that we make. Some are minor and inconsequential. Some are huge with major consequences.

This means that we have to choose how we will play the game very carefully. We can play as if we think we are an exception to the rules, but reality is under no requirement to comply to that. If we try to go against reality, and I contend that with transgenderism and the redefinition of marriage our society is very much doing that, reality will eventually come back and hit us hard.

We can say God is loving, and that is true, but even love does not mean freedom from consequences. Most of us have been in a position where being loving to someone seemed to be very unloving at the time, perhaps to both of us. It meant letting them suffer with a bad decision. Parents have to do this regularly.

Not only that, we suffer from the bad decisions of others. None of us is immune to suffering. For we who are Christians, it’s extremely arrogant for us to think the Son of God was not spared the worst suffering when He walked the Earth, but somehow we will get a free pass.

I would that every day I could tell you all that I am not divorced, but every day I have to face that reality and it still stings every day. However, under freedom, I have a choice on how to respond to it and my choice is to do my best to live every day and overcome whatever led to that horrible event and work towards my goal of remarriage. It would be great if I lived in a world where I am understood and I don’t have to learn all these social skills that I don’t get at all and seem pointless, but such is not the world I live in.

If I am to play the game well, I need to understand how it works and so do you. This is where our worldview thinking comes into the picture. If we choose the wrong worldview, then we will suffer for it. If Christianity is true and we live like atheism is true, then there are consequences. If atheism is true and we live like Christianity is, then there are consequences. We all must weigh out those consequences and go beyond more than just a strong feeling or hope that one of those is true.

I still choose the Christian side to this day since I am convinced that is where the evidence of reality points, but I know there are still consequences. I have to live a certain way. There are things I can want to do but I cannot do because of the decisions I make. This is something everyone has to decide. Say what you will about Pascal’s Wager, but every one of us has to make it somehow. We all have to say this is how I’m going to believe reality works and I will live accordingly.

However, we have the added difficulty that we don’t agree how the game is played. A few weeks ago, I had a get together over here that involved playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. While we all had varying skill levels, we all knew there were rules to the game and it had to be played a certain way. We could have made some artificial rules, such as my being handicapped somehow, but we would have agreed on those.

Our society can be difficult today because we have many vastly different views on how the world works and how to function in it. There are people today who still live as if the world is in a past era and that if you just say what the Bible says, everyone will agree with it. There are some like myself who agree with Scripture, but knows that not everyone else does and you need to be able to make a case from multiple fronts. There are some who think it’s just a book of fairy tales with perhaps some good bits on living, but nothing to live your life by.

And we all have to live together somehow.

This makes freedom hard, but this is how we are all playing the game. Every day we get up and face reality, we agree that we will play. Our job at the start is to find out how we think the game is to be played and do so to the best of our ability. We are free to do as we please to an extent, but hopefully, we will be free from guilty, worry, and stress, and live our lives enjoying what we do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 6

Do we play by the rules? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Continuing our walkthrough of this book, we now come to a section about rules and why they matter. Many of us play games without rules every day. Nowadays, most video games don’t even come with instruction booklets. When I was growing up, those booklets were a treat. If I found my old instruction books today from the games i got, I would probably look through them just to reminisce.

A lot of games we play are simple enough that we don’t see a rule book. Most people have gone to a sporting event and understood what is going on in the field without sitting down and being told the rules of the game. When I was in DivorceCare and we had a get-together, we would sometimes go out in the yard and play Corn Hole. I never once read anything on the rules of corn hole, but they were simple enough to understand.

In our world, we also have rules for how to play the game. If you’re a Christian, you can find some rules in the Bible, but certainly not all. There can even be debate over which rules apply and when. A favorite of internet atheists is to ask “Well why are you allowed to eat shellfish” as if they have just given a devastating blow to any Christian. (And to too many, they sadly have.)

Also, we have to understand what it is that we’re playing the game for. What are the victory conditions. If you’re playing Mario or Zelda, it’s normally to rescue the princess. If an RPG, it’s to defeat the main villain and save the world. If it’s a puzzle game, it’s to get a high score or finish a certain number of levels. Of course, there can be overlap.

What are our victory conditions?

Like the rules of the game, these aren’t written out for us, aside from Scripture. C.S. Lewis once said that if a ship is at sea, it needs to know three things. Those are how to stay afloat, how to avoid hitting other ships, and why it’s out there in the first place. I still remember the first time I heard that.

I heard the first two and those made sense, and yet the last one was the most important one really and I hadn’t thought about that as something to think about. You have a lot of people today who are health enthusiasts and want to live a long and healthy life. There is plenty of information out there about how to do that, but where is the information on why to do that?

What about money issues? Plenty of people will teach you how to save money so that when you are in your senior years, you can have enough to live on. What is not taught is why you should want that in the first place. This is not to say that people don’t have reasons for wanting health and wealth, but how many people think about what those reasons are?

We who are Christians need to think about this also. Is our goal just getting to Heaven? Then you have the question of why not become a Christian and just kill yourself? Why not just do evangelism by converting people and then killing them immediately so they can get there? Internet atheists are rightly answering this kind of theology with questions like this.

After all, the going to Heaven goal gives us something to die for, but really not much to live for. If you think this world is just going to be destroyed, why bother trying to save it and take care of it? Someone like myself looks at the world and sees the darkness and does my best to say “Challenge accepted.” I was talking with someone within the past week about our city of New Orleans and told him that our city does have huge problems with realities like crime, but that just gives us a chance to shine all the brighter.

If we are playing a game and playing it to win, we need to think about these questions. How do we play it right and what are we playing it for? Without these, we will be less than valuable players. We might even lose the game.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 5

What kind of game are we playing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m returning to my look at Edward Castronova’s book Life Is A Game, seeing as it was highly influential on my Defend Talk. At this point, he is asking what kind of game we are playing. We are going to be looking at three main categories, materialist, subjectivist, or objectivist.

For a materialist game, everything in this game is matter in motion. Suppose you see a drowning child and you jump in the water to pull them to safety. Did you do a good act? Not really. You are matter in motion jumping in to save matter in motion and goodness is not a material property inherent in the matter in motion. If there is any goodness, it doesn’t come from the situation itself.

Actually, Hume would agree with this. Good or evil are often ideas that we throw on the events that we see. We read them into the event instead of reading them out of the event. In a materialist universe, it is not real. I do understand that atheists and other materialists do have arguments for why they think moral truths are real and objective. I just find them all so far lacking.

What about a subjectivist game? In this, we make it up as we go along. There is no real game, but we act as if there is. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Calvinball. Calvinball in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is supposed to be the game that has no rules.

To be fair, many of us can make up games for us to do on our own when we get bored. Many a family on a long car trip, including my own, did the game of trying to find cars from different states in the country and seeing how many you could find. Children with imaginations make up games quite easily. In essence, most every game we have here to some extent is made up. Chess is not built into the fabric of the universe.

That being said though, once the rules of a game are made, one cannot change them willy-nilly. You cannot sit down to play a game of chess and suddenly decide that your bishops can move horizontally in the middle of the game. Now if you and your opponent want to make up some artificial rules to change the game, you can, but they must be agreed upon.

However, subjectivism doesn’t work because we can’t just make everything up and if we make everything up, we can make up the outcomes to. There is no risk. There is no real way to lose. Besides that, there are aspects of the game we cannot change. No matter how much you protest, 2 + 2 will still equal 4 and no amount of complaining will change that.

This leaves us with an objectivist game. There is something real to what we are doing. There is also something that is real beyond us. This game is not just something material as there is real good and real evil out there.

How do we play this game then and what is the goal? That’s for another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 4

What is a danger we don’t talk about in our society? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue our look at Edward Castronova’s book Life Is A Game, we come to him diagnosing a major problem in our world today. We are bored. Now some of you might be odd to think that is a problem. “What? So the remedy to the world’s problems is to just have some fun and all is well?”

Not necessarily.

Let’s start by looking at the problem. To some extent, we all know that he is right. I sit here in my apartment at the seminary. I have a TV with multiple streaming services and free services as well so I can watch virtually anything that I want. I have a PS4 and a Switch so I can play a huge multitude of games. I have the internet so I can find many more things to do. I have numerous books and I have a Kindle so reading isn’t a problem. I have a smartphone with even more things to do on there.

Even if you don’t have everything I have, odds are you have plenty of things. I wager still that you are likely bored sometimes. How many times have you gone channel surfing through streaming and said “There’s nothing on.”? How many times do you open up Facebook and just stroll for half an hour or so because you’re just looking for something?

Castronova tells us the monks actually had a word for the boredom. Acedia. It’s a restlessness in life so much so that just to get some excitement, some monks would actually put themselves in places of temptation. Acedia is a real problem.

We have that problem in our society because there is very little struggle. Our ancestors had to fight and work hard just to survive. They couldn’t go to the grocery store and didn’t have central heat and air and indoor plumbing and couldn’t go from place to place super easily. They didn’t have countless medications to treat most every disease out there.

And guess what happens when you play the game and it gets too easy.

I love doing math, which I’m sure is odd for you, but I would hate the thought of being asked to come and do some math problems, thinking it would be something complex, and get to a sheet of paper that just has adding single digit numbers together. Boring.

Now it could be there could be some degree of excitement in it if, say, I was put in a room with other math geeks and we all tried to see who could finish all these simple problems first, but the problems in themselves are not problems for me anymore. Without challenge, life is boring.

The same can happen in church services. I understand pastors want to speak on a simple level to reach everyone, but you can’t always speak on the lowest common denominator or the people who are not there do get bored. Yes. I get bored often in a church service because very rarely is anything new said.

Now to an extent, there is some good in this. If I stayed at a simple level in theology forever, my life would be lacking. I can even take those simple concepts and go deeper with them. Let’s consider the song we grew up with. “Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

Okay. Who is Jesus? He loves me? What is love? Why does He love me? The Bible tells me so? How do I know that’s what it really says? How do I know it’s reliable? How do I know it’s authoritative? Those simple questions can drive you endlessly into deep theology, but if you just stay on the surface, you miss that.

That’s just one of many reasons men hate going to church. This also ties us into quests. We need quests because we need excitement in our lives. We need to be challenged.

If we don’t have that, we fill it up with artificial entertainment. Castronova says that we have sex with one another as if wolves were about to devour our species. (No need for them to. Through abortion, we do that ourselves.) Whereas our forefathers would see sex as something pleasurable, yes, (Aquinas even said had the fall never taken place, the pleasure of sex would be even greater so thanks a lot Adam and Eve.) they also saw it as something deeper, a sacred demonstration of a covenant between two people and a revelation of God Himself. Turn on most any sitcom today and all you see is the pleasure principle.

We have a problem with obesity in our country. We often don’t eat to live, but we live to eat. We gorge ourselves and snack because we are bored. Many people on diets trying to lose weight are often told, and I think rightly, that they are eating not because they are hungry, but because they are bored.

Today, we have people on social media sites doing stupid challenges, like the Tide Pod Challenge, and while these challenges are stupid, note what they are called. Challenges. People want to do something risky. They want a goal to live for. They want something greater in their lives than just 9 to 5.

And often, we will invent grand problems so we can say we are fighting against a great enemy. It’s easy to talk about climate change and present it as a great disaster and then fight so you can say you’re fighting something. While I am skeptical of it, I understand that it can be fulfilling for people to have something to fight against.

Could this also be one reason why wherever the church has it easy, it tends to lose its effect? The church is growing in nations where persecution is rampant. Here in America, persecution is not yet rampant and yet people who identify as transgender, less than 1% of the population, seem to have more say than so many people that say they are Christians.

Without challenge also, it’s easy to wonder what we are living for. I have been pondering lately that could it be part of our educational troubles is our livelihood does not often depend on what we are learning. Do tests really help us learn? I don’t know if anyone has done the study, but I would be curious to see. After all, how many people study hard for a test and then promptly forget it all? They got the passing grade. How many of us passed tests in high school and now don’t remember what we learned?

Could this also be why gaming works so well? In 6th grade I used one of those geo-safari toys, I think that’s what they’re called, and got bored with North American stuff so I went and learned South American capitals. I don’t remember them all perfectly, but I know a lot more of them today than I normally would.

As someone who plays video games, I could still to this day turn on the original Legend of Zelda and go through both quests and find where everything is and beat the game. Did I ever have to sit down and take a test on this? No. I did it because it was fun and challenging and I learned.

When I first arrived at Southern Evangelical Seminary years ago with my roommate who I knew through TheologyWeb, we found we were doing quite well with our peers in knowledge. Why? Because we had been arguing this stuff for years online long before Facebook on that site. (If you want to debate my articles, go there also.) We had to know this stuff and it became a challenge. We used apologetics so much that we just knew it. We didn’t need to take a test on it.

When I was in Greek in Bible College, I did very well. Why? We had Parsons Tutor as our guide and it was a game of sorts and I would keep going through a lesson over and over until I got 100%. The challenge made it fun!

I am not saying this as someone who hates tests. I normally do great on them so there’s no reason for me personally to want to abolish them, but I am asking what really helps us learn and not just for the moment, but long-term?

When I am doing a game also, I voluntarily look up the information and research it. I want to know how to finish this quest? I will look it up. Back in the day also, something young gamers do not understand, we had to buy strategy guides and there was a lot of trial and error. There was no internet to look things up. We had to try again and again and work hard, but it was fun! When someone managed to beat a game, and normally that was me, the game prodigy, that was a cause of awe and admiration. What’s the result? I know this information long-term.

The prescription for our society then? Challenge. We need quests. We need to know what we are living for and why. Every man wants to provide for his family, but he also wants meaning and purpose. Wives will often want to provide and usually by being good housekeepers, but they also want meaning and purpose.

Christianity gives us that and we don’t know it. We sit on it not realizing our birthright. The Christian life is meant to be hard, but should it also be, dare I say it, fun?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

More on God and Emotions

Is God impassible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There is sadly a disconnect in the church. Too many of us have not gone back to our historical roots and wrestled with what we have. Yes. We affirm the Trinity (And the virgin birth), but the doctrine of the Trinity did not just fall out of the sky. Jesus did not go around teaching the Chalcedonian Creed or the Nicene Creed. You won’t find any of those fully written in the Pauline epistles. These doctrines took centuries to work out.

It’s tempting for us sometimes to remove those barriers and reject what long came before us. It should never be done lightly. If we see that the church affirmed something we don’t understand, it can help to see why they did. Consider if you were making a statement about the nature of God. Suppose you established that He existed. Now you want to go through and describe each of His attributes. Which do you start with?

Do you know where Aquinas started next?

Simplicity.

Why? Because working systematically, Aquinas knew that if you deny simplicity, you will not properly understand all the other attributes of God, including His love. Simplicity could be asking “What does it take for God to be God?” If you believe that God needs nothing at all to be God and is already God in who He is for all eternity, then you to some extent hold to simplicity.

Now one other truth the church held, and this means universal, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, was that God was impassible. God could not be moved. It’s not that you’re suffering so much and you eventually get God to a point in prayer where He says “I can’t take it anymore! Fine! I’ll give you what you want!” It is explained to us analogically that way because that is how it can look to us, but you cannot wear God down. How do you think you could outlast God?

So in this discussion, I have been sent this article.

I am pleased to see that it is written by some qualified theologians. I am also pleased to say they are speaking of impassibility and know what it is. This is discussion that needs to happen in the church. Let’s look at this paragraph.

The basic concern here is an important one: the Bible is clear that God is not dependent on his creation in any way (i.e., he is truly transcendent), and therefore he cannot be at its mercy, involuntarily affected by it, reeling in reaction to what he has made, and thus on some level controlled by it. In other words, what he has created cannot afflict him with suffering or make him feel anything.

This is an important point and I agree. Reality, you cannot make anyone feel anything. You cannot make yourself feel anything. If you can, make yourself feel happy all the time. Won’t work. Sometimes a husband or wife can say to the other “You make me so angry” or some other emotion. Nope. They don’t have that power. (Pro-tip though guys. Probably not wise to say that to your wife in the heat of an argument.) You need to own your emotions. This is especially so in our age where everyone else is supposedly responsible because someone else feels offended.

For most of us it matters a great deal that God has emotions for very personal reasons. At stake is whether or not God really understands and cares about our experiences, especially our suffering. To say that God is impassible seems to suggest that perhaps he doesn’t. Since he can’t suffer, how could he possibly understand? And if he doesn’t understand, how could he care? We want to know that God relates to us emotionally without having the problems that our emotions create for us.

So let us be clear: God does understand, and he does care.

Here is where we can get into part of the problem. It is assumed that if God loves us and if He cares for us, then He has emotions. The problem is every theologian who holds to impassibility in the Christian tradition agrees that He loves us and cares for us.

When you deal with a complex theological argument, a simple statement like “God loves us” is not going to change the other person’s mind. Anyone who is married or has been married knows that the emotion of love fades. However, that does not mean love fades. That’s one of the reason sadly our divorce culture is such a prominent problem. We base the covenant relationship on a feeling and when that feeling fades, well then what? There is a danger to the idea in the song of being “hooked on a feeling.”

We could ask how much we do this in other places. Do we know we are “close to God” because of a feeling we have? If so, could we not be really pursuing that feeling instead of God and thinking that feeling is evidence of a truth? We all should know we are good at deceiving ourselves. Many of us have had feelings, good and bad, that have not been accurate in the past. Actually, most likely all of us have.

God cared enough about understanding us that God the Son stepped into our shoes by taking on a human nature. Jesus’s flesh and bone are proof that God has established a deep connection to our emotional experience and he wants us to know about it. In fact, he demonstrates his solidarity with us, in particular, through Jesus’s suffering. Jesus’s trials and temptations validate the bond he has with us as our Priest, the One who can truly represent us to God in our misery. Jesus really suffered as a flesh-and-blood human being. He really gets it, so when he tells us that he cares, we can know that he means it. And because he really gets it and experienced suffering without sin, God the Son can faithfully communicate that experience to his Father.

I hesitate to use the term solidarity. The Son enters into our experiences, but the Father and the Spirit do not. The incarnation demonstrates though the love that the Godhead has for us. I can say that fully as a theologian who holds to impassibility. God loves us. His love does not depend on an emotional action in Him that we generate. It depends endlessly on His timeless unchanging nature, which also means His love will never change. We can do NOTHING to make God love us more. We can do NOTHING to make God love us less. God actually CANNOT love us more than He does.

But impassibility matters for other reasons as well. Some important attributes of God are at stake. In particular, whatever similarity exists between God’s emotions and ours ought not undermine God’s unchanging character (immutability), which undergirds his faithfulness and ability to save us.

Looking at this, it’s important to note that at this time, it looks like these theologians are not denying impassibility, and they are right. Other doctrines are at stake. Immutability has been held by the church for ages. This would also entail simplicity, which I suspect is another can of worms the authors don’t want to deal with at this time, which is fine. It deserves an article in itself.

So in what sense does God have emotions? Traditionally theologians have made a distinction between passions and affections. Historically passions described the more physical aspect of emotions, which, as we explained earlier, means that to some extent our bodies are always shaping our emotions. We don’t want to say that about God, though, because God doesn’t have a body, and God doesn’t get cranky when his blood sugar drops. The church fathers used the term passions to describe what God doesn’t have in order to defend against heresies which taught that the Father suffered on the cross1 or that God compromised his divine nature2 in order to accomplish salvation. In this sense, we ought to deny that God has passions. He is impassible, meaning that the creation or his creatures cannot push him around emotionally.

For the most part, I agree with this. Note also they say that this was done to defend against heresies also that the Father suffered on the cross. We cannot say that because Jesus took on human nature, whatever Jesus has in His humanity, God has in His divinity, unless you want to say that the Father died on the cross or that He gets hungry and thirsty and needs to sleep or that the Father could poop a diaper.

DeYoung goes on to capture the core beauty of God’s impassibility by saying that God “is love to the maximum at every moment. He cannot change because he cannot possibly be any more loving, or any more just, or any more good. God cares for us, but it is not a care subject to spasms or fluctuations of intensity.”4 Thus, while it might appear at first that the doctrine of God’s impassibility will leave us with a cold, distant, and disconnected deity, instead the exact opposite is true: the glorious fact that God cannot and does not change means we can completely rely on his heart bursting with love, compassion, pity, tenderness, and anger at injustice; we can delight in his works, knowing he will always do them with these attributes without tiring. God’s impassibility is actually the grounding hope of our ability to know and trust his emotions.

The only part of this I would disagree with is of God having emotions. I would say we could say affections if we mean something analogous to what we have. As has been said before in our understanding of God, it would be strange if God were not strange.

In other words, God doesn’t have passions in that he is not jerked around by creation. God doesn’t have “good” days and “bad” days. The early fathers were not arguing that God is dispassionate but rather speaking in a philosophically credible way about how God is different from creatures. But these impassibility formulations should not compel us to say that God is in no way like us emotionally. We are passible and God is impassible. God is not like us in some important ways, and he is like us in important ways. God is energetically enthused and emotionally invested in creation by his own free and consistent choice, but God’s emotional life does not compromise his character or change his essence.

One major difference I want to say here is that God is not like us in any way. We are like Him. That is something highly important. As God says in Isaiah, “To whom will you compare me?” Answer. No one. (Isaiah 40:25) A father who says “Well, I have a son and I guess God is like that” has it backwards. He should say “God has a Son, and I am kind of like that.” Note that these authors do say that God’s essence is not changing.

Let’s return to the issue at stake for most readers: When you’re suffering, does God care? Of course God cares if you’re suffering. Not only does he care; he cares that you know he understands. Because Jesus is our High Priest, Jesus in his human nature understands suffering existentially and physically. Because of both Jesus’s purity and his human passion, God is uniquely qualified to empathize with you in Christ.

With this, I will say that yes, God cares about our suffering. As someone who holds to impassibility, I still have had no problem in the pain of my divorce going to God regularly knowing that God has love for me and wants the best for me as well. I sometimes say there is one thing God and I definitely both have in common. We hate divorce. I also fully agree that Jesus definitely knows what it is like. Jesus knows what it is like to be rejected by the one you love. He knows it especially in that His love crucified Him. (I suppose I can say I’m thankful my ex at least didn’t do that!)

However, in conclusion, I really don’t think the authors have made a case for God having emotions. They have made a case for God having love and care, but that has never been denied by anyone who holds to impassibility. Still, I think their case is much more reasoned out and better thought through than too many today. If you want to deny simplicity and impassibility, it is good to go back and ask why all branches of Christianity have historically held to this doctrine.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 2

What position will we take in the game? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Edward Castronova’s book Life Is A Game and looking at how games are lived out. He writes that if he saw a Buddhist who was drunk, he would not criticize his devotion to his teacher, but he would question how seriously he took his teaching. After all, Buddhism does say a lot about self-control.

The same could be said about Christians, naturally, and yet this is something that needs to be kept in mind. When non-Christians want to bash Christianity because they see Christians living inconsistent lives, such as being heavily promiscuous, then that doesn’t say anything about Christianity. It says something about that particular “Christian.” (The person could really be fooling themselves into thinking they are a Christian.) If you see a Buddhist not living out his Buddhism, then that tells you nothing about Buddhism. It tells you a lot about the Buddhist.

When we choose a worldview, we are choosing how we play the game. We are choosing a position that we think best describes the game that has been created. When you play a real video game, you could debate what kind of worldview it exists in. Not all will be screaming something, as it could be hard to tell what worldview Tetris could be in, but what about a series like Final Fantasy? In this world, it is taken as perfectly “natural” that gods, magic, and stupendous beasts exist. Also often in these games, that good and evil exist is a given.

As a gamer also, I never really got bothered by the problem of evil which is brought up. Evil is something that since it is in the game often provides something for us to rise above, for us to conquer. If you’re a fan of mysteries, you understand this also. You read wanting to know who the bad guy is and in the end, how he gets tracked down and stopped.

This is not to say that evil is good, but we do realize it as a challenge for us all and we need a good worldview to conquer evil. Not only that, we need a good worldview to tell us that evil is real and that the fight is winnable. Somehow, many of us do have that idea that it is winnable.

If you read a book and in the end, the bad guys win and that’s it, it seems like there is a problem with the book. Somehow, we anticipate that no matter what is going on, the good guys will win. There can be a hint of anxiety in us at times watching a show or movie or playing a game and wondering “Will this last-ditch effort really work?” It does, and we are relieved, but not always surprised.

So in conclusion at this part, what do we learn? We learn that to defeat evil, we need a worldview that can be lived fairly consistently at least, as humans tend to fail to some degree at everything and that includes our worldview. We also need a worldview that tells us that evil is a reality and explains its place in our world. Finally, we need one that can show us that evil can be defeated and there is hope.

We’ll discuss more next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Life Is A Game Walkthrough Part 1

Are we playing a game? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Spoiler warning for the old game Final Fantasy Legend ahead. It’s an old Gameboy game, but if you are planning on playing on an emulator or something, skip this part.

Your party in Final Fantasy Legend has climbed a tower twice that is said to lead to paradise, defeating the fiends of Gen-Bu, Sei-Ryu, Byak-Ko, and Su-Zaku, as well as their leader Ashura. (Fans of mythology should recognize those names.) There was a trap the first time going up so the party had to do it again and fight the first four of those fiends again, until they got to the top again.

This time, they seem to enter a peaceful and serene area where there doesn’t seem to be much of anything, except for one man, standing in front of a door.  They talk to him to find out he is the Creator and they were the first to finish the game. It was a game he made because people didn’t know what courage and determination meant so he created Ashura to see what they would do. He wants to reward the party and grant them a wish.

The party is indignant upon hearing this insisting that he used them. Eventually, it’s clear they’re picking a fight with him and so the party fights the creator. In the end, they win, and rather than go through the door, they choose to return to their world. (How much I wish we could get a story that would show what was beyond that door.)

THOSE WANTING TO AVOID SPOILERS CAN RESUME HERE.

What if our world also was a game? Granted, there are differences, as contrary to Isaiah 45:7 as read by fundy atheists, God did not create evil. However, He did allow it. My thoughts on this come from reading Edward Castronova’s book, Life Is A Game, which I heard about on a podcast on God and Gaming with two hosts, one being a Catholic priest, who both love gaming and they have Catholics on there who are in the game industry and Castronova was one of them.

He looks at game design and says “What if God created the universe like we create a game?” It’s an interesting hypothesis and I am going through it and in that spirit, rather than call this a book plunge, I will call it a walkthrough. This is one of those books that I am highlighting every night something I read that I find relevant. I am not just learning a lot about the world around me, but I also think I’m learning about myself and so many times I read something and I think “I can relate to that! I didn’t know there was a name for that!” By the way, I’m not even 20% through the book.

So let’s start with RPGs. These are my favorite genre of games. In these, one assumes the role of a character and makes decisions as him (or her) and really seeing the world through their eyes. Castronova says that these have shown us that people want to be heroes and have their lives matter and go on quests. (Another area that shows this I think is the rise of the superhero genre) It’s common in the world of RPGs for a player to spend 20-40 hours a week on one game. Consider how many people made plans suddenly when The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild came out. In Japan, there are laws on when a Dragon Quest game can come out because everyone takes off to play it.

Now we can look at this and say “What is wrong with our society in that people are wanting to spend so many hours playing a game?” or we can say “People are spending so many hours playing a game? Why?” Obviously, it is meeting some desire in the lives of those people, but is it just a desire to have fun?

Probably not just that, because while gaming is fun, there is also the reality of what is known as rage quitting. People get super frustrated because they can’t seem to beat that one level. Many times it’s common to throw one’s controller and just march off in a huff, and yet so many times we come back. Why?

What if we saw this not as a problem, but rather as a clue? Could it be possible that game design could tell us about the human condition? What if we did see the world as a game? Could that give us any insights into the nature of reality? Is this also a novel idea to see it this way?

And what is the purpose of play? Something to consider is play is its own end. People do not play so they can work, but we do work so we can play.

And how does this relate to our everyday theology and life? Is this part of the reason sometimes men hate going to church? Could seeing life as a game make us want to go deeper into understanding God?

I plan on exploring these questions as I go through this book. I don’t know how long it will take, and I also do not plan on blogging next week as I have the Defend conference going on. I hope you’ll be there, but if you can’t, I hope you’ll join me as we explore answering if life could be a game.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

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