Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Today we continue our series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Last week, I questioned the New International Version’s translation which says, “Meaningless, meaningless, it’s all meaningless.”
Today, let’s think about meaning by asking, What’s the meaning of chess?
It was a big deal in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue chess program beat Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion. It was a major victory for artificial intelligence, and a huge win for IBM’s technical skills. But many chess players resented IBM’s arrogant intrusion into their favorite game because chess is a human game. The goal isn’t just to capture the opposing army. If all I want is to sacrifice pawns and kill the king, I can pitch my opponent’s pieces in the fire.
Chess is a game, a microcosm of human civilization and war. It evokes the emotions of a thousand years of knights and castles, of medieval bishops, queens, and kings. Chess asks me, “Am I a pawn in this game of life? Will the church and politicians and army sacrifice me for their bigger aims?”
Chess is recreation, a mental challenge, a battle of wits, an opportunity to develop skill. It is also a spectator sport.
Computers that play chess don’t understand that. They have no memories of love and war, of victory and defeat. They just process information and execute a programmed strategy.
Computer chess reminds me of a satellite navigation unit I had. Whenever I made a wrong turn the unit said with an annoyed tone, “Recalculating, recalculating.” I was on a journey, but my GPS wasn’t enjoying the trip. All it cared about was the math.
So what does this have to do with Ecclesiastes and meaninglessness?
The author of Ecclesiastes applied his “mathematical” mind, his computer mind, to the search for meaning.
He tried gaining wisdom. But he discovered that “In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge increases pain” (1:17-18).
He tried maximum pleasure: wine, music, dancing, women. But he found no lasting satisfaction, no meaning there (2:1-9).
He became obscenely wealthy and he used his money to build houses and vineyards and gardens and parks (2:4-7). But his life continued to fail the test of meaning.
The problem was that the author played life like a computer program plays chess, like my GPS goes on a journey. He defined the goal played to win, but when he did, he didn’t know what the game meant.
Our father, we are players in this game of life. How often we have computed that better health, more money, better social connections, or more wisdom would give us a richer, fuller life. And maybe, just maybe, answer our nagging questions about meaning.
But now we confess with the author of Ecclesiastes that a meaningful life is not gained by strategy and design. As the author discovered, all our accomplishments and all our experiences can leave us empty and dissatisfied.
Teach us then the true source of meaning.
I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.
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