Game of Life and Death



Christmas is the time when many of us get boardgames of various kinds. I have to confess that I get horribly competitive at boardgames, be they something as complex as Monopoly or even as simple as Snakes and Ladders... Years ago some friends, knowing my interest in all things Egyptian, bought me "The Hieroglyphs Game", which is known in this family as "The Scarab Game" or more frequently "There's No Way I'm Playing you at That Game because you Turn into a Competitive Monster" which may be pushing it a bit far, but only slightly...

Anyway, in ancient Egypt itself they had an interest in boardgames, and particularly one called Senet which, it has been suggested, is perhaps the oldest boardgame in the world and might actually be the progenitor of backgammon.


It frequently appears in the illustrations of the "Book of the Dead" and Senet sets were often included in the funerary gifts for the deceased. Some suggest this is because being "lucky" at senet suggested you were under the providential care of the head gods of the Egyptian pantheon, or that the game itself was a metaphor for the journey through the realms of the dead to the afterlife... a sort of spiritual "snakes and ladders" with ups and downs along the way... It could also be that they packed it away so the deceased could while away long hours in the tomb...


The makers of the TV series "Lost", which I never really got into (life is too short), apparently had one of the characters find a set of senet buried in the sand on a beach... he then invented a set of rules and invited others to play him, in a pretentious metaphor that pointed towards the ultimate denouement of this momumental waste of TV scheduling...


Whilst I am very competitive at boardgames, I was always taught by my Mum that "cheaters never win" so I very rarely (if ever) cheat... though I have been accused of it many, many times... However, in the great game that is life it doesn't seem as if too many people were taught that lesson. Historically the idea of God was often used as a sort of celestial referee who was there to guarantee that cheaters didn't really win (even though it might seem that they do in this world) but that sort of a worldview is diminishing in the post-modern western world... increasingly this world is seen as all there is, so what is there to stop cheaters from winning?

And, as we will find the further we go in looking at the Book of the Dead, even when there is a belief in life after death and divine retribution for injustice, there is always the hope that we can cheat our way into the afterlife... That we can live dissolute lives here on earth and still get a free pass into paradise. Is that part of the allure of the doctrine of penal substitution?I'll come back to this question later on...

But in the meantime, what we need to remember is that life and death are not a game...
As a young person I loved wargaming... indeed I still have Egyptian, Greek and Medieval English wargaming figures waiting to be painted and used... But there was a huge difference between that, where life and death were determined at the roll of a dice, and the computer gaming of today where we can be emersed in an alternate reality where we can shoot to kill or be shot and killed, and simply reboot reality to start again... In the first we were like gods, moving our pawns across baize covered battlefields... In the second todays gamers become part of the game... but it remains a game...

That's not possible if you are a real para in Afghanistan, or one of the Taliban he shoots and kills; its not possible for a child living and dying in a less dramatic way in the poverty of sub-saharan africa, or an old man in an icy doorway in downtown Belfast... and its not possible for you and for me...

Life and death is not a game... its not a game we play... nor is it a game in which we are pawns of a God or gods entertaining themselves... But at Christmas we celebrate the belief that God became one of us... living this life by the rules we live by... or should live by... full of grace and truth...

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