The Grand Master

      Comments Off on The Grand Master

It seemed that everyone who carried a Nerd Card in my high school – and I had a Nerd Gold Card – eventually joined the Chess Club.

I was a capable chess player.  Generally I could whip my friends during lunch before they had a chance to finish their Fritos.

When I joined the Chess Club, however, I found myself for the first time playing opponents who really knew what they were doing.

Chess is an exquisitely complex game.  For instance, there’s an almost limitless number of opening moves that two players can make:  318,979,564,000, to be exact.  With that kind of freedom, you have the distinct impression that you can do anything.  You are, after all, the managing director of half the pieces on the board – 16 in all.

But when you’re up against a formidable opponent, it’s surprising how quickly the game can turn.  I am a sufficiently skilled chess player to see ahead about a half dozen moves.  The experienced guys in the Chess Club, however, could see far beyond that.  It was as if they could anticipate everything I was about to do – long before it even occurred to me.

Which led to moments where one of them might say:  “About 11 moves ago, if you had moved your bishop here, things might have gone better for you.”  Uh, thanks.

The interesting thing is that I was always free – free to make any move I wanted.  But they displayed what I would call a higher freedom.  They could see more of the board, and more of what was likely to happen.  And within that larger vision, they almost always made mincemeat of me.  I played right into their hands.

People who endeavor to know God quickly become aware of a spiritual conundrum:  How is it possible for human beings to have free will, yet at the same time God is in charge of Reality?  If God knows everything, and knows where history is leading, doesn’t that completely erase the validity of human choices?

This is where it’s helpful to recognize God as the ultimate Grand Master.  All day today I will be free – terrifyingly free – to choose my words, decide my actions, and determine my next steps.  The content of my character and the direction of my life will be hanging in the balance. 

Yet nothing I’m going to do today will surprise God.  That’s because God sees the “playing field” of my life with absolute clarity.  God won’t take my choices away.  But like a brilliant chess strategist who knows where the game is headed, God will fully take my choices into account.

This shines some light on one of the more celebrated verses of the New Testament:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

That sentence isn’t a declaration that all things are good.  That’s plainly not true.  But God is able and willing to work for the good even when my choices (my next moves, so to speak) turn out to be foolish, shortsighted, or even disastrous.

The enduring takeaway from my Chess Club is that when we dare to compete with better players, we quickly learn the limits of our own abilities.

When we turn our hearts to the heart of God, we quickly learn that he has no limits at all.

No wonder he’s called the King.