Have you ever played Mao? My daughter taught me, by beating me mercilessly. Of course, she didn’t tell me the rules. Or how to win. Or anything else.

And that’s the point of Mao. You learn the game by doing things right. Or wrong. And by getting penalized. And eventually, after you’re losing badly enough, you start to pick up on it.

And once you finally get it, you lure other friends into playing so you can beat them mercilessly at the game.

Sounds fun, right?

Sometimes, living a life of faith feels like playing a game of Mao. There’s a game creator (God) who knows all of the rules perfectly. You’re given a random hand of cards (the circumstances into which you were born). Dealers (priests, pastors, teachers, etc.) try to guide you. Most of them sincerely want to help, but plenty of them cheat so the cards work in their own favor. Other players (like parents, teachers, and mentors) try to help you along, but there’s a lot of seeking, searching, and asking questions like:

  • Is this biblical or unbiblical?
  • Is this right or wrong?
  • Is this a sin, or is this something I can do with a clear conscience?

The game has been passed down through many generations, across many different cultures, through many different ages and movements. And to complicate things, nobody can seem to find the original set of rules (the actual, original manuscripts of the scriptures). there are thousands of possible variations and interpretations, each claiming to speak with authority about the rules of the game (denominations, sects, etc.).

We humans really know how to complicate life, don’t we?

Continuing this analogy, the Creator of the game showed up at the game table like an average player and showed us how to play the game perfectly and flawlessly. That’s good, right? Well, a lot of the dealers at the time felt humiliated, so they killed him.

But he came back… (I’m running out of steam with this illustration…)

Every day, we wake up and make choices all day long. And those choices, when repeated, become habits. And our habits shape us.

Therefore, since the stakes are high, we all form values. And then we allow our values to inform and guide our choices.

The question is, how do we form those values? How do we establish a framework for ourselves that helps us determine right versus wrong, or wise versus unwise?

Modern-day Christians often ask a couple of questions along this journey.

  1. What does the Bible say? Is there a command? Or at least a principle?
  2. Is this a sin, according to what the Bible says?

Because the Bible is an ancient book, written by a diverse collection of authors over many centuries, it can be very confusing to navigate. There are hundreds of laws in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament in the Christian Bible). Among those hundreds of laws, some pertain to outdated forms of worship, animal sacrifices, the construction of a temple or tabernacle for worship, and even personal hygiene. It can seem weird.

When Jesus was teaching one day, a lawyer (not an attorney, but a scholar who studied and interpreted the ancient Hebrew scriptures) threw a loaded question at Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36 NRSV)

Jesus had hundreds of laws from which to choose, but he very quickly zeroed in on a two-in-one answer.

Matthew 22:37-40 NRSV

[37] He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [38] This is the greatest and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus boiled it ALL down to love.

For Christians, that leaves us with a far simpler question. It may be hard to sort through the Bible’s teachings (or lack thereof) on any given subject. But in his book, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World, Andy Stanley puts it this way:

What does love require of me?

He elaborates:

It’s a question that introduces inescapable clarity to just about every moral, ethical, and relational decision we will bump up against. This question takes us to the heart of Jesus’ new covenant command—the standard by which we are to evaluate our behavior, conversations, and attitudes.

It takes a lifetime of examining Jesus’ teachings and examples, connecting with God, and practicing love toward others to master the question, but at the end of the day, this one gigantic question is extremely potent when it comes to forming our values, making choices, and living life well in relationship to God, self, and others.

Bob Goff often boils it down to “becoming love,” and there is literally no greater pursuit.

Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash.