I feel this sermon by A.W. Tozer titled "Beware of the Religious Word Game" (which I highly recommend listening to) is more relevant today than it was when it was originally preached. Tozer discusses the playing of games in his day and defines the game as (to paraphrase) a problem that is created for which we then go about finding a solution. Tozer uses the example of how people are focused on baseball, which was the American pastime in his day. Per Tozer, there was no such thing as baseball until people invented it. We created a problem (how to keep score of hitting a ball with a stick) and rules and the like so we could then find a solution but obviously there is no such thing as baseball found in nature. And yet we can be more taken up with games than with the real problems of life. This is not to say games don't have merit; they can instill values such as teamwork, sportsmanship, persistence, etc., but to the extent that they become more important than life itself and by extension than God they have become new idols (as happens so often with sports figures).
I won't do an in depth analysis of this sermon at this time but I did want to share some questions that I felt moved to raise as a result.
How often are we creating problems for ourselves to distract us from the real problems we need to face in life? To the extent that we are choosing to focus on the things that don't matter (minding unnecessary details) and thereby creating problems for ourselves that we don't need to deal with instead of dealing with the bigger picture aren't we creating games in our lives and treating life as a game, thereby diminishing its meaning and the gift that it is?
Now let's apply that specifically to our religious practice. I will confess that I am guilty of formalism (honestly, legalism). I will sometimes spend more time thinking about whether I am addressing God properly and bending my knees and bowing my head than on the condition of my heart and whether I am actually ready and willing to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to me. In this way I am not better than the Pharisee. Or perhaps I will keep an internal mental note of the people I gave to and how much I gave, but I know that when it comes to good works once we start counting it doesn't count at all. So I, like the Pharisee, have made a game of God, making sure that I do all the things I need to do (tithing mint, dill and the like) to get a "perfect score." Which brings me to my next question.
Why do we play religious games? Tozer's sermon discusses the fact that some people make a game out of religion and say the right words but are hearers only and not doers. So why do we play games? Why would someone put up a farce of religion? Well, some people do it because the church is their social network and they want to pretend to be a Christian to fit in or for appearances in general (I believe this is what Tozer was hinting at). But let's say that's not the case in this instance and this person wants to be a "Christian." So why the hypocrisy? I think the answer lies in the Pharisee. A game that we create has rules we understand and we can abide by and therefore it is agreeable to us. Also, we choose games often because they fit our talents. So the Pharisee plays the religion game and makes a game of God because in the way he defines God he can play the "game" of religion well. Sure, it may require things of him like tithing that require sacrifice but in return he gets prestige so he agrees to make this trade. But he lives by the traditions (i.e. "games") of men and not God. Man, through his games, has tried to bring down what is from heaven to earth and made his own rules and kept his own score. But this is the beauty of faith. There is no game to be played because the victory has already been won. There is simply the acceptance of the victory and walking in it. The moment we try to play at religion is the moment we have lost our faith.
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