The Master Chess Player
I must tell you before even beginning this post that this is definitely a "thinking out loud" post. I'm not at all set on this issue, but decided to write about it in order to see what feedback my readers might want to share. I'm open to positive and negative responses to this, but please keep in mind that I'm not actively promoting this line of thinking. Just working through it. OK? Thanks! :)
Sometimes I get frustrated at the way we try to put God in a box. It's so easy to go down a path of reasoning and think that we have God all figured out. It's not hard to find people who will confidently tell you exactly how predestination and election work. They'll throw some Scripture verses at you, redefine a few words for you along the way, and then sit back, cross their arms and say, "See? Now you understand."
But if you say, "So you're telling me that nobody has any say in whether or not they are saved?" then the arms get uncrossed again, they'll lean forward, and with the intent of a boxer sending his opponent tumbling to the mat, they'll say, "Do you not believe God is sovereign? Do you really want to say that man is sovereign? That's blasphemy."
You see, for a lot of people, that's the "hinge" argument they use to defend their viewpoint. It's the classic "Here are your only two options" false dichotomy. Either God is completely sovereign and gets every ounce of glory, or man is completely sovereign and gets every ounce of glory. And in the latter, according to some, God is left whimpering in the corner because He reallllly wanted to see someone get saved, and they just wouldn't accept His gift of salvation. And we all know that we don't want a God Who is left whimpering in the corner, sad that His great plan fell through, do we?
Time and again, I have tried to figure out if those really are the only two options. And while I'm not very clear on how to articulate a third option, I think that there is one, and I'd like to try this metaphor on for size with my readership.
I stink at chess. I mean, I understand the procedures of the game, and I understand the objective of the game, but I stink at it. I can beat my 13-year-old son at it, but that's not something a dad should brag about! And truth be told, I can only beat him because he probably thinks one move ahead, while I think an amazing two moves ahead! But if I were to play someone who had any skill at the game at all, my lack of chess ability would very quickly show. Picture with me, if you will, three possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: I'm seated across the table from the world champion of chess. The game begins. I make my first move and sit back to see what my opponent will do. The world champion chess player looks up at me with a warm smile and says, "Where would you like me to move?" I look at him with a puzzled look, "Huh?" He just smiles again. "You tell me where to move." This seems rather interesting, and so I reach over and move one of his pieces for him. He looks a little disappointed with the move I chose for him, but says nothing.
Once again, I take a turn, and wait for him to move. "That was an interesting move," he says. "Now what would you like me to move in response?" I'm liking this match quite a bit! And once again, I move one of his pieces for him. Before too long, I proudly announce, "Checkmate!" as my opponent's smile fades. A little whimper is heard as he begins to quietly gather up his belongings. The champion has been defeated!
Scenario 2: I'm seated across the table from the world champion of chess. The game begins, but before I have a chance to make my first move, my opponent reaches across the board and moves one of my pawns forward. "Hey, wait a minute!" I cry. "You can't move my pieces for me!" He smiles, "Listen, I'm the world champion chess player. I know a whole lot more about this game than you do. I'll move your pieces where I want them to go." And with that, he takes his turn.
Once again, before I even have a chance to think about my move, he reaches over and moves one of my pieces. Again, I am constrained from even having any input into the move. Eventually, he sees my frustration. "OK," he says with a seemingly sincere voice. "I'll let you move yourself, but you have to move that knight from there to here," as he points out a square on the board. "But I don't want to move that knight," I said. "You'll be able to capture it, if I do." His warm smile continues, "I know. That's my plan. Now take your turn." I reach for my bishop. "NO! You must move that knight," my opponent says forcefully. And with that, he grabs my hand, places it on the knight and moves it to the spot he had previously determined.
It doesn't take long for this game to end. And predictably, I have lost. Every move I made was determined by my opponent to bring about his desired outcome.
Scenario 3: I'm seated at a table across from the world champion of chess. Between us is a standard chess board and the game is about to begin. It all starts evenly enough. A pawn forward on my part. An answering pawn forward on his. But before very long at all, it is clear who is dominating this game. One by one, my pieces begin to leave the board. And very soon, my king is on the run. "Check", says my opponent confidently as he moves his rook parallel with my king. I quickly move my king out of danger. "Check", repeats my opponent as a bishop comes sliding in from nowhere. Where did that come from? With a little less energy, I move my king out of danger again.
And then it happens. Down the board comes his queen to corner my king. I frantically scan my options. If I move this way, I'll escape the queen for another turn. But, oops. That puts me in danger of the rook again -- can't do it. How about...nope. That bishop is waiting on the diagonal I want to move to. I've already figured it out when my opponent calmly and quietly says, "Checkmate," and the game is over.
Scenario 1 obviously represents the caricature of Arminianism that is usually portrayed by those who seek to preach against Arminianism. In that scenario, the master chess player (representing God) is incapable of winning the game because he allows me to make all the moves for him.
Scenario 2 represents the Calvinist viewpoint. In this game, the master chess player is not only capable of making winning moves, but completely determines my own moves as well.
But Scenario 3 is what I want to explore with you a bit. In this scenario, the master chess player is clearly the winner. There is not really any question that his purposes will win out over mine. That's why he's the master, and I'm not! He is able to analyze all of my possible moves, and no matter where I move, he's already figured out how to respond to it to suit his purposes. Yet he does not determine every move for me. I am free to move any of my pieces anywhere I choose to move them.
My question for you readers is this: Is this at all a reasonable analogy of how God is able to remain sovereign even while granting human beings a free will? See, from the Calvinist's perspective, if man has free will, God is powerless. Man becomes fully in control. And so, in order to preserve the character of God in their system, they feel the need to remove any trace of actual free will. "Choice" becomes re-defined to mean that you are free to choose, but God determines what you will choose. Ummm, does anyone else see a contradiction there?
Let's make one thing very clear: I do not know of anyone who believes in free will who also believes that God is not sovereign. Let's kill that straw man once and for all, please! I am trying to demonstrate in a very feeble way here that free will and the sovereignty of God do not have to be mutually exclusive.
There is more I could say about this, but for now, I'll just throw the analogy out there and see what you all think of it. Am I missing something? Is there a fatal flaw in the metaphor of God as "master chess player"? Obviously, there are areas in which the metaphor does not hold up. For example, we are not playing a game "against" God, if we are His children. God is for us, not against us! But are there problems with the metaphor that I'm missing? I look forward to your thoughts.
Until next time,