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Rook and Chess and All the Rest

I grew up with relatives living nearby. Our typical family social was to play board games. Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Boggle, Rail Baron, Scrabble and probably a score of others were routinely seen on our kitchen table.

And we would play Rook and checkers.

But we didn’t play with a regular set of playing cards. Such cards were associated with gambling, and gamblers we were not.

This past week I received an email from one young man asking if it was OK to play Rook and chess. That question brought back many memories, some emotions, and a conviction that it is time to write a paper about such amusements.

Pleasure Seeking

We were created for God’s pleasure. Re 4:11. And Paul said that he could “take pleasure” in his weaknesses since these were opportunities for God’s power to be seen. And one answer John gave to the question “Why does God answer our prayers?” was that “we . . . do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”

1Jo 3:22  And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

The short point that I am making is that pleasure is not evil. Eating a ripe pear is pleasurable. Marriage, when sanctified, is pleasurable.

All that being said, it is just as apparent that pleasure is associated in scripture with moral danger. (See below). We can’t just assume that something pleasurable is also honorable.

And that brings us to the question addressed by this paper. Which pleasures are wholesome? And which are forbidden?

Character Conquest

 

One of the dangers in pleasure seeking is that it can become addictive. A life may easily become absorbed in a round of activities characterized by the words “survive” and “seek amusement.” And such a life is very poor soil for the growth of the Christian graces associated with salvation. Such a life brings forth “no fruit” that can be called ripe.

Lu 8:14  And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures <2237> of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

The “love” of pleasure, so well cultivated by playing games, also produces pecuniary problems. It creates a distaste for useful work and a taste for self-indulgence.

Pr 21:17  He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.

There are sinful pleasures and Moses understood that we must choose between indulging them and serving God.

Heb 11:25  [Moses chose] rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

“How,” a young man might ask, “is it that ‘pleasures of this life’ tend to choke the good seed of the Word?”

The Word of God causes us to grow into the measure “of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:13. That is the ripe “perfection” that Lu 8:14 is pointing to. The principles that actuated Jesus become our own as we “receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save our souls.” James 1:19.

And pleasure seeking, of the game-playing variety, is nearly an opposite of the Bible principle of selflessness. Seeking to conquer my neighbor chokes in me the sacrificial qualities of Christ’s character. These are prevented from maturing while I take joy in winning. And especially is this so when I win because I am more skillful to play than my neighbor. You can see the choking nature of pleasure seeking when you contrast it with the following verses.

Ro 15:1-2  We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2  Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.

1Co 10:24  Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.

1Co 10:33  Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

The Pains of Pleasure Seeking

Where do “wars” and “fightings” in the church come from? They are the result of serving our pleasures. The word “lusts” in James 4:1 is the same as the choking “pleasures” of Luke 8.

Jas 4:1  From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts <2237> that war in your members?

Pleasure seeking, for all its popularity, fails to satisfy. Solomon found that even his nearly unlimited access to pleasure led to an empty feeling. And in wisdom he warned us that in our old age many of the pleasures of life will be inaccessible. A life of pleasure-seeking does not bode well for a happy dotage.

Ec 2:1  I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

Ec 12:1  Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

Pleasure Seeking at the End

2Ti 3:1  This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, . . .  lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

So in our day the love of pleasure will tip the moral scale. There is nothing censurable about enjoying God’s gifts. But a love for pleasure can grow until it exceeds a love for God. The peril is in cultivating our love for pleasure. That is how it grows. Observe in your past and in that of others how game playing cultivates a love for itself.

Conversion involves a turning away from such things. No, not from enjoying life, but from serving enjoyment. Decisions based on what is pleasurable – this is the nature of the foolish old life.

Tit 3:3  For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures <2237>, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

Sinful Pleasures?

We need not say that a pleasure is sinful to say that we must avoid it. It is the choking nature of serving pleasures that we are trying to escape.

Yet living the American dream, having an abundance of good things, is compared by James to being fattened up for slaughter. It is indulgence today at the expense of dying tomorrow.

Jas 5:5  Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been [living for pleasure, or luxuriously.]; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

The problem with such pleasure is that it supplants good activity. As fat calves would better be running than chewing, so men would better be seeking out the needy than indulging in idle amusements. If gross immorality brought Sodom’s fall, yet that was a secondary fault. The original was idle indulgence that debased the character and set the stage for later debauchery.

Eze 16:49  Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

But What About Rook and Chess?

Some never will permit God to condemn new vices with old statements. If the vice wasn’t named before it existed, it can’t be condemned. So they seem to reason.

Said another way, if the Devil repackages an old vice after the death of a prophet, some will never allow themselves to be persuaded that the new package in dangerous.

Rook is the blind spot in the eyes of a blind North American church. Like the Amish that will not drive cars, but will hire drivers; or who will not have a telephone in their home, but will use one on a public corner, so is the Adventist who will not play “cards” but will play Rook or Uno. The worldling looks on with bewilderment. Not so strange as the conviction, in his way of thinking, is the silly inconsistency.

The fact is that heaven condemns the cultivation of self-serving, or pleasure-seeking. And Rook and Chess are both involved in that condemnation. Heaven condemns, with holy jealousy, its competition for our attention. It condemns the choking vines that threaten our tender spiritual life.

We should replace our vices with virtues, our self-serving with other-serving. Such activity could mean an eternal lengthening of our tranquility.

Da 4:27  Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.

Conclusion

Lu 8:14  And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures <2237> of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. 15  But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

Appendix

Ellen White addresses the topic of pleasure-seeking repeatedly. This ought to be expected from an end-time prophet in light of Paul’s declaration that the end-time perils for Christians include loving pleasure more than loving God.

Here are a smattering of her statements:

After a day of pleasure seeking is ended, where is the satisfaction to the pleasure seeker? As Christian workers, whom have they helped to a better, higher, and purer life? What would they see if they should look over the record the angel wrote? A day lost! To their own souls a day lost, a day lost in the service of Christ, because no good was accomplished. They may have other days but never that day which was idled away in cheap, foolish talk, of girls with boys, and boys with girls.  {AH 472.4}

Never will these same opportunities offer themselves again. They had better been doing the hardest kind of labor on that holiday. They did not make the right use of their holiday, and it passed into eternity to confront them in the judgment as a day misspent.  {AH 473.1}

As the time of their probation was closing, the antediluvians gave themselves up to exciting amusements and festivities. Those who possessed influence and power were bent on keeping the minds of the people engrossed with mirth and pleasure, lest any should be impressed by the last solemn warning. Do we not see the same repeated in our day? While God’s servants are giving the message that the end of all things is at hand, the world is absorbed in amusements and pleasure seeking. There is a constant round of excitement that causes indifference to God and prevents the people from being impressed by the truths which alone can save them from the coming destruction.  {AH 524.2}

If the frivolous and pleasure-seeking will allow their minds to dwell upon the real and true, the heart cannot but be filled with reverence, and they will adore the God of nature. The contemplation and study of God’s character as revealed in His created works will open a field of thought that will draw the mind away from low, debasing, enervating amusements. The knowledge of God’s works and ways we can only begin to obtain in this world; the study will be continued throughout eternity. God has provided for man subjects of thought which will bring into activity every faculty of the mind. We may read the character of the Creator in the heavens above and the earth beneath, filling the heart with gratitude and thanksgiving. Every nerve and sense will respond to the expressions of God’s love in His marvelous works.  {CG 50.1}

We need not tax ourselves with rehearsing how much has been given to the cause of God, but rather let us consider how much has been kept back from His treasury to be devoted to the indulgence of self in pleasure seeking and self-gratification. We need not reckon up how many agents have been sent forth, but rather recount how many have closed the eyes of their understanding, so that they might not see their duty and minister to others according to their several ability.  {CS 289.3}

The rest which Christ and His disciples took was not self-indulgent rest. The time they spent in retirement was not devoted to pleasure seeking. They talked together regarding the work of God, and the possibility of bringing greater efficiency to the work. The disciples had been with Christ, and could understand Him; to them He need not talk in parables. He corrected their errors, and made plain to them the right way of approaching the people. He opened more fully to them the precious treasures of divine truth. They were vitalized by divine power, and inspired with hope and courage.  {DA 361.3}

I was shown that the position of Dr. E in regard to amusements was wrong, and that his views of physical exercise were not all correct. The amusements which he recommends hinder the recovery of health in many cases to one that is helped by them. He has to a great degree condemned physical labor for the sick, and his teaching in many cases has proved a great injury to them. Such mental exercise as playing cards, chess, and checkers excites and wearies the brain and hinders recovery, while light and pleasant physical labor will occupy the time, improve the circulation, relieve and restore the brain, and prove a decided benefit to the health. But take from the invalid all such employment, and he becomes restless, and, with a diseased imagination, views his case as much worse than it really is, which tends to imbecility.  {1T 554.3}

SHALL WE UNDERSTAND BY WHAT YOU HAVE SAID IN YOUR TESTIMONIES IN FAVOR OF RECREATION, THAT YOU APPROBATE SUCH VAIN AMUSEMENTS AS CHESS, CHECKERS, CHARADES, BACK-GAMMON, HUNT-THE-WHISTLE, AND BLIND-MAN’S-BUFF?  {RH, October 8, 1867 par. 24}

IT IS GENERALLY REPORTED IN THIS CONFERENCE THAT YOU HAVE TAKEN AN INTEREST IN THE AMUSEMENTS WHICH HAVE BEEN PRACTICED AT THE HEALTH INSTITUTE AT BATTLE CREEK, THAT YOU PLAY CHECKERS, AND CARRY A CHECKER-BOARD WITH YOU AS YOU VISIT THE BRETHREN FROM PLACE TO PLACE.  — ISAAC SANBORN, H. C. BLANCHARD ; R. F. ANDREWS,   Answer:

Since I professed to be a follower of Christ at the age of twelve years, I have never engaged in any such simple plays and amusements as named above. Neither have I at any time given my influence in their favor. I do not know how to play at checkers, chess, back-gammon, fox-and-geese, or any thing of the kind. I have spoken in favor of recreation, but have ever stood in great doubt of the amusements introduced at the Institute at Battle Creek, and have stated my objections to the physicians and directors, and others, in conversation with them, and by numerous letters.  {RH, October 8, 1867 par. 26}

On pages 24-26 of Testimony No. 12, I have spoken of “Recreation for Christians,” as follows:–  {RH, October 8, 1867 par. 27}

“I was shown that Sabbath-keepers as a people labor too hard without allowing themselves change, or periods of rest. Recreation is needful to those who are engaged in physical labor, yet still more essential for those whose labors are principally mental.  {RH, October 8, 1867 par. 28}

“I was shown that it is not essential to our salvation, nor for the glory of God, for us to keep the mind laboring, even upon religious themes, constantly and excessively. There are amusements which we cannot approve, because Heaven condemns them,–such as dancing, card-playing, chess, checkers, &c. These amusements open the door for great evil. Their tendencies are not beneficial, but their influence upon the mind is to excite and produce in some minds a passion for those plays which lead to gambling, and dissolute lives. All such plays should be condemned by Christians. Something should be substituted in the place of these amusements. Something can be invented, perfectly harmless.  {RH, October 8, 1867 par. 29}

It began in the Sanitarium before Dr. Kellogg came into the institution. Persons who came there to board and room brought in chess playing and many other amusements. This was not right, and the Lord rebuked the management. Our Sanitariums are not to cater to the perverted tastes of worldly people. The same evils have existed in the Sanitarium on the hillside. A few years ago the managers made it more of a hotel than an institution for healing the sick. In the rooms of the guests could be seen the wine bottles that they had brought with them. The boarders indulged appetite for many harmful things. God was not at all pleased with the course pursued by the management in allowing such indulgence; for His purpose in the establishment of the institution was not being carried out. . . . Whether patronage increases or decreases, right principles must be upheld in the Lord’s institutions. In all our work we are to show the advantage of a health reform diet. Between us and the world there is to be a distinct line of demarcation.  {KC 143.5}

Various entertainments, some of them of a theatrical character, have been introduced into the Sanitarium for the benefit of the patients. These amusements, which are similar to those in vogue at other health institutions, too often take the place of religion and devotion. And they are necessarily attended with extra care and expense; but this is a small consideration when compared with the loss to spirituality and true religion integrity.  {PH100 68.3}

When the game of checkers was introduced at the Institute a few years since, I was shown that its tendencies were evil. It might amuse, but it would result in far more harm than good. That which is thought to be a benefit is in reality a detriment. The nerves become excited, the mental forces are unduly taxed, and recovery of health is hindered.  {PH100 69.1}

Life in the cities is false and artificial. The intense passion for money getting, the whirl of excitement and pleasure seeking, the thirst for display, the luxury and extravagance–all are forces that, with the great masses of mankind, are turning the mind from life’s true purpose. They are opening the door to a thousand evils. Upon the youth they have almost irresistible power. One of the most subtle and dangerous temptations that assails the children and youth in the cities is the love of pleasure. Holidays are numerous; games and horse racing draw thousands, and the whirl of excitement and pleasure attracts them away from the sober duties of life. Money that should have been saved for better uses is frittered away for amusements.  {AH 135.1}

See also: RH, February 20, 1866 pars. 21-22

(2) Comments

  1. One of the points you make in the article is that competition is not acceptable for christians. However, if this is true, how is one supposed to take part in a capitalistic economic system, such as the one here in America? The only way to get a job is to push someone else out of it, and the only way to get a promotion is to take it from someone else. You are competing, just the same as you would in any game, only with much higher stakes. Should we abstain from taking part in the work force to avoid competition?

    • Dear Allison,

      The capitalist system is not so ruthless as to require all persons to be selfish. A man may get a job by applying for a position that is available. He may be promoted by serving his employer faithfully. He may be given responsibilities because he demonstrates responsibility. Now if Daniel does push people out of position this way, and they are angered by it, you can be sure that Daniel wasn’t pleased to see them demoted. He wasn’t winning, he was serving. In all my 20 years in the US capitalist system I don’t think I have ever pushed anyone out of a job to get it. (I have pushed people out because they were unfit, but that wasn’t to make a place for me.) In the end it boils down to whether or not you want to obey the Golden Rule, and wish to heed the words “do nothing” for “strife or vain glory.”

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