You Can’t Cheat When There Are No Rules

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

No rules, just a goal and chaos. Two teams fought to get a five-foot diameter cage ball across the gym to touch the wall behind the opposing team. My students played this game when I taught high school P E.

I enjoyed watching the crush of bodies straining to move this huge ball back and forth. There were the kamikazes who sacrificed their bodies by diving headlong into the fray. There were the strategists who tried to direct the energies of the kamikazes. The bystanders served as last-line defenders.

My favorites were the complainers. These students displayed the highest degree of righteous indignation. Complainers were constantly running over to me to yell that the other team was cheating. I would point out that there were no rules, so there couldn’t be any cheating. This answer was never acceptable to the complainers. What they really wanted was order.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty . . .“ The opening passage of the Old Testament reveals a world “formless and empty.” Then God begins his work. God brings order to the chaos.

It’s the same with our work. We move to bring order, and through order, purpose. Order and purpose give us reasons for playing the game. Even though our cage ball game had no rules, order emerged quickly. While the initial mass of humanity pushed against itself, strategists were seeking order. Complainers desperately wanted order but didn’t know how to achieve it, and the bystanders just hoped that inertia wouldn’t force them to engage. Meanwhile the game focused in on the kamikazes who sacrificed themselves in the struggle.

The team that discovered a worthwhile purpose would end up winning the game. Usually, this purpose was collaboration itself. They found purpose in the task of working together and creating social order. Purpose and order defeat chaos. This is true in other areas of life as well. At work, at home, in civic groups, we function more smoothly when there is order. Order is tremendously difficult to create, but it is a necessary framework for community.

Order leads to rules that help us define the game. Purpose is why we play the game which is different than the goal. The goal of the game is to win, but that’s not necessarily the purpose for playing. Many of us play games for the joy of teamwork, sportsmanship, honor, sacrifice, courage, or other virtues.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the church, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (9:24). There Paul talks about the goal, “an eternal prize.” In another letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (2:13).

The goal of the race is to win the prize, but the purpose of the race is to “do what pleases” God. Our purpose is to glorify God in all we do.

What is one of your favorite games? Why do you play it? Is it helpful for you to think of your life as if it were a game?

And just in case you have no idea what a cage ball game looks like, here's a short video:

Photograph "Playing with Giant Beach Ball" used under a Creative Commons license.