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)

Playing To Win

What if this is a game? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been speaking about my talk at Defend 2023 lately and the research I have done as a result has been fascinating to me. For those who don’t know, we had to bring in chairs for people to sit in during my talk and at the end, an organic discussion broke out among the audience. Something about this topic really hits home and connects people.

Why?

Before the talk, I went to the Unbelievable? facebook group and I asked participants to talk about a time they were emotionally moved by a game. Now in most threads there, you will see a lot of antagonism towards others. It’s Facebook. It happens. Atheists and Christians and everyone in between don’t always get along.

I didn’t see any of that here. If someone didn’t say explicitly and I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was who since everyone was getting along amicably and sharing together their experiences.

I don’t count that as a bad thing.

But why was it happening?

Then I thought about being at a seminary and how our semesters go. You can remember this from your schooling times even if it was never higher education. You would often learn and study hard for that test, take it and pass, and then you would gradually just forget everything. Why? You never used it. It was never relevant. I love math and I enjoyed my math classes, but that doesn’t mean I can tell you how to do quadratic equations off the top of my head.

However, I do have two experiences from 6th grade I remember. One was instead of Math, I took computer keyboarding and used Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and learned to type in that class. Today, I still maintain that skill and I can type about 80 words per minute.

I also remember free time in my Social Studies class which was also a lot of geography. I remember going to the GeoSafari system and I knew my state capitals already and so I decided to do the game to learn the South American capitals. I still remember a lot of them to this day.

And how did I know my state capitals? We played a game in the class regularly in 5th grade to see how well we knew the state capitals. We had a map of the states on the wall. Two students would see who could identify which state got hit with the teacher’s pointer first and the winner would progress. It was the goal to see who could have the longest streak.

Then I compared this to growing up gaming. You know how many times we failed at a game and yet we got up and tried time and time again? I learned a lot of perseverance with that. I played RPGs where you had to save up money to get the best equipment and I would regularly not progress forward until I had all the money I needed to buy what I wanted. You know what? To this day, I’m still a money saver and I try to get the most out of every penny.

As long as I can remember also, I have had good versus evil built in me. My DivorceCare leader explained it to my parents. I have played games all my life. I want the real adventure. The fantasy adventures I go on are meant to build in me a yearning and a desire to seek the real adventures, and that is the result.

Also when we were growing up, we didn’t have the internet. I didn’t have that until I was in high school. Want to know how to beat a boss or find a secret in a game? You have to go with word of mouth, read it in a magazine, write to Nintendo themselves, buy a strategy guide, etc. Did you hear that rumor about Mew being under that truck in Pokemon? Many people tried many rumors to see what was true and what was not. You couldn’t just go to GameFaqs or you couldn’t just watch a YouTube video.

In other words, we worked at play.

This isn’t just me either. Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 9. Every runner trains, but only one gets the prize. People training for the Olympics of their day would work to no extent to be the best. There were great rewards for them after all. They had great honor and sometimes their could be tax exemptions for them and their people as a result.

We still have similar today. People that want to be good at sports work really hard. I have heard that Michael Phelps swam several several hours every day and ate well over 10,000 calories a day to keep up.

Today, fans can be the same way. There are fans that know pretty much every statistic about the sports teams that they watch. I don’t understand this honestly. I think it’s foolish, but they probably think the same about my interest. I still remember Peter Kreeft saying sometimes he fears he’s a bigger Red Sox fan than he is a Jesus fan.

We had a speaker at Defend saying about our faith that what we are doing is not a game. I suspect the implication was “Therefore, take it seriously.” I get what he was saying, but here’s the problem. It’s often the things that we don’t really enjoy that we don’t take seriously.

I shared this on my wall last night and was told there are already people working on this and it’s called Gamifying. This is where we use the principle that game makers have learned on how people want challenges and to succeed and they will take on a big challenge if they think the payoff is worth it. As Thomas Sowell has said, it’s all about tradeoffs.

So what if we treated it this way? What if evangelism became a quest, a quest for the glory of God and He does promise a reward. Why would He promise a reward unless He wanted us to pursue that reward? Jesus regularly points to our own self-interest. What we do brings glory to God, but we benefit as well.

There’s a saying that if you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life. Think back to what was likely the best job you ever had, or maybe you have it now. Why is it the best? Is it because the pay is really great or the benefits are really good? How about this? It’s the best job you’ve ever had because you enjoy what you do.

I would honestly prefer a job with less money where I enjoyed my work than a job with more money where I hated my work. I suspect I am not alone. Work is something that we also do for fulfillment. We want to make a difference in what we do and if workers think they’re replaceable cogs in a machine, rightly or wrongly, they will not work as well.

What if we made our education enjoyable? I remember my first semester in Greek in Bible College and I did really well. What do I remember most? We had a computer program that was a game of sorts and I being a perfectionist wanted to get perfect on every single section of that program. I would not move on until I could do perfect three times in a row in every lesson.

Guess what? I did well in that class.

This could be especially so for men who love to compete for the most part. I am also remembering again in 6th grade that in my science class I had the top average for the first 6-week period. That kept happening and then the teacher gave an assignment so that you could increase your class average by 20 points. Did I need that to pass? Nope. Did I take that task on even though I didn’t need to? You bet I did. Why? Because I wanted to keep up my top average all year long, and I did just that.

So ultimately, this is all asking why do we do what we do and what can we do to make us want to do more of what we ought? For myself, if there’s something I enjoy a lot, it is a good debate. I have had gaming sessions when I lived with my parents where I had my laptop right next to me and then someone would respond to me on Facebook in a debate and I would pause immediately and jump in. As much as I enjoy gaming, I enjoy a good intellectual exchange even more.

I contend also that Christianity promises us this great adventure and this adventure extends even into eternity. Eternity is not the end. It is if anything the glorious beginning for us. I don’t know what work we will do in eternity, but we will do it, and we will enjoy it.

So the speaker here said this isn’t a game. I know what he meant, but I want to contend the opposite. This is one. You have to play it, but you better play it well.

When we have that excitement about the game and that this actually has a purpose and there is a great benefit, I think we can actually take it more seriously. I know when I have a big debate coming up, I certainly spend a lot of time reading on the topic and usually much more than for other things because I willingly take on the debate and can see immediately what the serious ramifications are. I know I will be before an audience and I want to do well.

So could this all be a great game the creator has made for us? Perhaps it is, and if so, we had better play it well. He does not allow any do-overs, cheat codes, or anything like that. (Although I hear he left us a great strategy guide.)

We are on the ultimate adventure. The plot is far better than any we could have dreamed up because God Himself is beyond it. There is no greater good in this world worth fighting for and if need be, worth dying for.

Play this game well. It is worth it.

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

More on Quests

Do we need quests to survive? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m still writing about my presentation at Defend 2023 where I talked about video games and Christianity. Yesterday on my wall I wrote about the need for quests. Quests are goals that we have set for ourselves and seek to go out and accomplish. These could be simple goals that we can call our routine, such as brushing teeth and hair, showering, or other goals, like my going to talk to someone about auto insurance today or how I read X amount of certain books on my Kindle.

When it comes to games, quests can keep us coming back easily and give us incentive to keep going. Games tend to become less enjoyable after the quests have been completed. Sometimes, this happens so much that players make artificial quests.

This is also why some game systems have achievements in their games. A completionist is someone who often tries to complete every achievement in a game, though some of them are just impossible to do. I mean literally impossible. If you had an achievement about pre-ordering a game and it’s already out, sorry. You can’t get that one.

An achievement is a way of being told you accomplished something. You did something that was worthwhile. This is often especially so for men who are usually much more insecure than we come across as and who thrive on praise, especially if we have a lady in our lives.

As I thought about this last night, I remembered one time when I was married my in-laws wanted my then wife and I to come over and clean the windows. I remember I got high praise for how I did since I was extremely thorough, practically using a toothbrush and scrubbing every bit of dust I could find. Looking back, I realized it was a quest. I was given a challenge and I wanted to do the best I could.

So why do I not do that at my own home? Because that’s not a quest of mine and there’s no one I’m here trying to please. If I’m fine with the place, that’s good enough for me.

In our day and age, we don’t have quests anymore. When does a boy become a man? For us, it’s when he turns 18. That’s not really an accomplishment. Congratulations. You lived 18 years. Now to be fair, not everyone does, but it happens so often that we count those who don’t an exception.

Maybe one reason our young boys are often acting out and getting in prison or just getting women pregnant and neglecting fatherhood is because they are trying to demonstrate they are men? Could it be we actually could benefit from something like a rite of passage? Could we use something that a man can look back on and say “Yes. I am a man.” Naturally, there are counterparts for the women as well, but if we look in our prisons, most of the inmates are men.

The black family in America is often worse with this as fatherlessness is even more common. A father is often someone who indicates to the boy that he is a man. Without that, the boys will team up with other boys in an effort to become men. Asian families by contrast are often highly family oriented. Perhaps the Asian communities have better ways of establishing maturity.

Quests are our way to go out and do something and prove something and if we know the quest has a purpose, we are often far more willing and do so with more joy. If your quest is just to go to work and you think, rightly or wrongly, that you’re just being given meaningless busy work to do, you won’t care about your job. If you think you’re just a replaceable cog in a machine, why should you care?

And why do we do the work at our jobs? To earn an income. Why? So we can provide for our families. Why? So our children can grow up. Why? So they can do the exact same thing. If we think our lives are just going through motions and doing the exact same thing again and again, we won’t approach our lives with joy.

What about our Christianity? Do we often know what the point is? We often say the goal is to go to Heaven when you die? For most of us, there’s a good amount of time between when we’re born and when we die. What do we do with that time? We tell other people about Jesus so they…..can go to Heaven when they die….

But what about all that time in-between?!

It’s as if we view the gospel as everyone having a disease and the goal is to get them a treatment so they won’t die and then have nothing else for them to do except give everyone else the treatment. What do we do with all this time? What is the quest of Christianity?

It’s one reason I like to talk about the kingdom of God. That changes reality. It’s saying that we are spreading a kingdom and we are in a battle of good versus evil. Now we’re talking. Reality doesn’t just take place when we die. It’s going on right now.

Evangelism is then part of the battle of good versus evil. It is stopping evil from spreading wherever we can. It is us working together as Christians for a common goal to defeat the intruder’s work that came into that garden so long ago. Does that sound bizarre to you? Paul describes frequently in the New Testament such as Ephesians 6 and 2 Cor. 10 the Christian life as one of battle. What is the book of Revelation describing if not a massive war over the souls of men?

The Christian life should be an exciting one. We are all part of a journey, part of the greatest battle between good and evil that can ever be. If we’re gamers, our quests there should remind us of the importance of the quests that go on outside of the games. We are on a quest for the king, and He will reward those who play the game well.

But should we treat this as a game?

Now that’s another post entirely….

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

 

My Defend Talk

So how did my talk at Defend 2023 go? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was a last-minute addition to the conference giving a talk on video games and Christianity. I do remember I slept the night before, but I was nervous, which I was assured was normal. A regular speaker at the conference told me he always gets nervous before every talk and if you’re not, then there’s something wrong.

So my talk is scheduled for Thursday at 2. I had told Paul Copan I would be leaving his plenary a little bit early so I could go to the room to get ready and he thanked me for letting him know that. I went to the room and got everything set up, including my powerpoint, and I had three videos I played also during the talk for added effect.

One thought I had had was “Would anyone really show up?” Fortunately, I saw a couple of people come in and so that at least meant some people were interested. However, I soon found out that I had nothing really to be concerned about. People were interested in this topic.

Considering the size of the room, this was a full crowd. What about those people sitting on the sides? That’s because we had to bring in chairs for people to sit in eventually. It wasn’t just college age kids. There were several people in there, even ones who don’t really play video games themselves.

Fortunately, my powerpoint presentation worked well. I had mentally timed out how things would go and they went quite well. Something that surprised me when I was doing this research was that it touched on areas I had not thought that I would touch on. Obviously, this talk would be about topics like violence in video games and sexism and things like that. Right? Nope. Those were just side issues I gave references for at the end.

I ended up quoting John Cassian and Aquinas talking about acedia, known as the noon-day demon. This was a sort of boredom that came from life and how this is one reason we need quests in our lives. This is something I’ve been writing a lot on while reviewing Life Is A Game.

All of this was exciting to go through, but this isn’t even the best part so far. The best part was when Q&A came. Now normally, this is always the best part of any talk. However, something happened in my session that I had not seen happen in any other session. This is not to say it didn’t, but I had been in a breakout session whenever possible and I had not seen this take place.

It started with a guy who had a question saying that he was really good at a game called Apex and he could go professional or he could be a youth minister and should he do the fleshly thing and go with a lot of money or go with a calling. Now I do question the idea of callings like this, but the first thing I said was “Why assume going for a job that pays well to be fleshly?”

Soon, someone else spoke up and talked about what a good influence he could be in the world of Apex if he went that way and that’s when I was able to sit back and oversee a lot of what happened, but I realized what was going on was incredible. Organic discussion. The people in the class were interacting with one another’s questions and sharing their own experiences. For me, that is the best indication that it went well.

I did also stress this is an area that needs more research and I suspect I will do a lot of that. One point I pointed out is that I did an Amazon search for a book discussing if Christianity is fun. How many books are written on that topic? None. At least I didn’t find them.

There are 3.2 billion gamers in the world today. That’s 40% of the population. We need to reach them for Christ. Shouldn’t we understand them?

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 3

What is your quest? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In our continuing look at Edward Castronova’s Life Is A Game, it is time to talk about quests. Quests are something common to a gamer. When I boot up Final Fantasy XIV in the afternoon, I see a series of quests that I can undertake. Some are simple. Some could just involve talking to someone and reporting back. Some could involve exploring a dungeon. Some could involve defeating a powerful enemy.

Gamers know the rule about quests. We can have the ultimate goal of the game overall, but it’s easy to get caught up in sidequests. These are quests that you take that are not essential to the story, but have their own benefits. Often times, the sidequests can be more enjoyable than the ultimate quest.

Sometimes also, the sidequests you can do in light of the situation can get hysterical. I was playing FF XIV and had a scene once where a baby in a skirmish got tossed in a body of water. Normally, the player jumps in immediately and rescues the child, but I had a pop-up for a requested dungeon raid come up then so the child managed to survive for half an hour while I raided a dungeon. Tough kid. In Final Fantasy VII, the meteor heading towards the planet will wait while you’re busy doing chocobo races. Also, sure, Zelda is in trouble, but hey, Link wants to go fishing!

Quests give us meaning and purpose. We want to have something that we are aiming for. C.S. Lewis once said that a ship on the water needs to know three things. First off, how to stay afloat. Second, how to avoid hitting other ships. Third, why it is out there in the first place.

Quests give us a purpose to be out there in the first place. Some quests we have involve small goals. You might have a quest to do laundry today or to go to the grocery store and pick up some items. You might not think of these as quests, but they are. You have a goal that you need to accomplish and you set out to do what it takes to accomplish that goal.

Some quests are much more long-term. As a student at a seminary, I have a goal of getting my Master’s and eventually a Ph.D. I also have a goal right now of meeting a good Christian girl and getting married. On the way, there can be several other minor quests on the goal of these quests.

You won’t go on a date unless you ask the girl out. On my end, I am also currently speaking to a therapist here at the seminary who is helping me with social relationships for the goal so I can learn to be social and interact with people better. It’s super difficult if you are on the spectrum. That’s a quest to get me to this quest.

To get the degree, I must pass the class. To pass the class, I must do the assignments. That means going to the library and reading the books. (And if anyone is feeling generous….)

Ultimately, something that has to be asked is what is my overall ultimate quest. Link’s is normally to rescue Zelda and defeat Ganon, again. (Though technically, based on the timeline, it is a different Link every time. If you don’t understand, it’s okay. No one really understands the Zelda timeline.) In Final Fantasy VII, it’s to stop the meteor and defeat Sephiroth.

For us, part of the idea of the game of life is we have to figure out our ultimate quest. What are we here for? What do we want to accomplish? Everyone wants to accomplish something. What is our goal? Earn the most money? Have the most fun? Be a good person? Some combination? What drives us?

If we want to play the game well, we need to find out. Otherwise, we could be questing for nothing.

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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