Being Close To The Game or Close To God

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One question that could be asked by Christians when it comes to doing extracurricular activities is whether or not the activity in question brings the Christian closer to Jesus. This has been applied to many forms of extracurricular activities, but let’s narrow our focus to video games from here on in. A question that a Christian may ask a fellow believer who plays video games is, “Will playing video games bring you closer to Jesus?” Or they may ask the same question but about a specific video game, such as, “Has playing *that video game* brought you closer to Jesus?” The implication is the same regardless of the nuance of the question.  In everything a Christian does the conclusion has to be the same – they are now closer to Jesus as a result of doing it. If the answer is: “No. Playing three hours of the turn-base video game Persona 5 or the infamous video game Grand Theft Auto has not brought me closer to Jesus,” then one may ask, “Should you have been playing that game?”

This message is inherently legalistic because it assumes that since we are all called to glorify God (cf. Isaiah 43:6-7), growing closer to God is the only endeavour that a Christian should aim to achieve. As a result, some people may be encouraged to call a specific Christian’s faith into question if said Christian does anything, such as playing a video game, for any other reason than to get closer to Jesus. However, the spirit behind this question may not necessarily be legalistic as technically it is true that the Christian’s numero-uno goal is to be closer and closer to Jesus each day. When playing the video game Persona 5, one of my goals is to max out my character’s abilities so they can perform better as the game progresses. Am I a fake Christian because I don’t play Persona 5 with the intent to have a deeper understanding of God? I want to beat this game and I have to make my character strong in order to do this. As a result, if you bring my Christianity into question because of this, you may do so under the assumption that I am being self-centred, not God-centred. Can a Christian do something for the fun of it and not for the sole purpose of growing in Christ? Yes and no.

Yes: God’s law over human-run governments is pretty lenient. God’s law doesn’t intervene unless His laws are violated. We see this modelled throughout Scripture. Jesus’ half-brother, James , states the minimum regulations for Christians who were not from the Jewish tradition. He states that Simon indicated:

God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,

After these things I will return, [and] I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, [and] I will rebuild its ruins, [and] I will restore it, [so] that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, [and] all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ [says] the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. (Acts 15:14-20)

God wasn’t concerned with the kinds of morally-neutral practices that other nations had. He was just concerned with their hearts. The freedom that Christ gives us allows Christians to be free from rules and laws as a means of eternal salvation. Jesus Himself states:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

This was a confrontation of what we in “The West” may call “religion”. The one rule that Jesus gives is to come to Him. We are not given a list of dos and don’ts to ascribe to. We are called  to follow His lead. Does Jesus then speak out against doing something for fun? No. Is there any place in Scripture that says that the only reason a Christian can do something is to grow closer to Jesus or to give Him glory? No, but I will expand on this later. Therefore, it is okay to look forward to doing something enjoyable where the joy comes from tackling a challenging video game, for example. It is okay to play a video game for the purposes of achieving your goal of maxing out your character’s stats or of earning enough XP (experience points) to achieve a gold trophy. If you haven’t learned anything new about God’s word or you don’t feel closer to Jesus as a result of playing a video game, that is fine. You are not a heretic for wanting to spend a couple of hours furthering your gameplay instead of deepening your understanding of God’s love.

No: However, there is a caveat. Problems can begin when your video game playing replaces the commandment to come to Jesus. If you forget about God’s love because you are trying to remember what the fight-combo is that you need to make in order to beat the boss in some Marvel superhero video game, then I must say: “Houston, we have a problem.” In other words, if, in order to achieve that trophy or to be able to max out your character’s stats you have to leave Jesus, then that is, indeed, a problem. If you are leaving Jesus to concentrate on doing those things, then the video game has become a problem. If the video game becomes the problem then it is the video game that must become a memory. As much it is freeing to concentrate on the thing that you are doing at that moment, if you are a Christian, loving God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) is your first priority; not maxing out your character’s abilities or earning a pixilated ego-stroker, formally called a trophy.

I asked above if there is any place in Scripture that says the only reason a Christian can do something is to grow closer to Jesus or to give Him glory.  The answer I gave above was “no”, but we are called to glorify God in everything we do, (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31). Why can’t playing a video game be a means of glorifying God? Can we not max out our character’s stats or earn that gold trophy for God’s glory? ANSWER: Yes. It is okay for “fun” to be a goal.  Why can’t this goal accompany the goal of glorifying God? It can, but that is the order of things: Goal #1: glorify God and goal #2: have fun earning a gold trophy or max out your character’s stats.

To conclude, to see a Christian have a heart for Christ where they are so enthused to see His name be glorified and praised is commendable. However, we must glorify God Biblically and not according to our understanding, (cf. Proverbs 3:5). The Gospel of Jesus is hard enough on its own for many people to accept. Don’t put the burden on people’s shoulders that Jesus removed by providing a list of can-dos and can-not-dos. Represent God in all ways. This includes the freedom that He gives to act on various interests and for non-eternal goals, such as earning a gold trophy in a video game.

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