Chutes & Ladders

Chutes & Ladders Creative CommonsI don’t know how many times I played Chutes & Ladders as a kid.  I do remember that you always want to rescue the cat.

You go up really high if you rescue the cat. (+56)

The worst was climbing up on the cabinet to eat the cookies.

You go down really low if you try to reach the cookies.  (-63)

Although I always wanted to know more about right and wrong than the game offered, Chutes & Ladders was intrinsically satisfying to me as a child.  For one thing, the consequences were always logical.  For another, they were always predictable.  If you made the same good choices every game, you’d win for sure: plant a garden, bake a cake, mow the lawn, eat your breakfast, care for your injured pet, sweep the floor, carry mom’s purse, win best-in-show at a pet contest, and, of course, climb up the tree to help the cat.

On the other hand, if you made the same lousy choices every game, you’d lose for sure: read comics at school, go ice skating in the no-zone, eat a whole box of chocolates, walk in a puddle without your galoshes, show off on a bike, bust a window, draw on a wall, pull a cats tail or (never should you!) climb up on the cabinet to eat cookies.

You would think I might have generalized from this game ways to make good and bad choices.  But I was more focused on the concrete choices in the game.  I didn’t want to make abstractions.  I didn’t want it to become more complicated.  I wanted to just do those 9 ladder choices and avoid the 9 slide choices, or have more ladders and slides, even, but no generalizations.  I could play the game perfectly if I could just memorize the ladders and slides.  And I wanted my life to be perfect, just like that.

But life isn’t so easy.  I didn’t even have a cat to carry down from a tree, or a tree in my yard that had low enough branches I could climb anyway.  And I never even get to mow the lawn with a push mower because my dad was afraid I’d run over my foot.

I can be very detail-focused, very check-listy, very Chutes & Ladders happy, and actually there is someone in the Bible who I think would have been right down my alley personality-wise.  He never got to play Chutes & Ladders as a kid, but I bet he would have loved it.

We don’t know a lot about him but we do know a few things:

  • He was humble.  (He knelt before Jesus.)
  • He was uncertain or afraid or both.  (He wanted to know what he needed to do to get eternal life.)
  • He was rich.
  • He was young.

The account is told in Matthew (19:16-26), Mark (10:17-27), and Luke (18:18-23).

Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and love your neighbor as yourself.

“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22, HCSB)

Though I think this young man would have liked the game of Chutes & Ladders as a kid, it wouldn’t have prepared him for what Jesus was going to teach him that day.

Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

The young man had an important question he wanted to ask Jesus.  He seems to respect Jesus and trust Him.  Unlike some questions Jesus was asked, this question does not seem meant to try to trick Him or cause Him trouble.  I think the young man really wanted to know the answer.

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The young man was intent on finding out about eternal life.  He doesn’t stop to think, as Ravi Zacharias says, about the fact that if Jesus is good, He is the One who is good.

“Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered:

Do not murder;
do not commit adultery;
do not steal;
do not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and love your neighbor as yourself.

“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”

The young man revealed he was not perfect with his question, “Which ones?”  He was afraid that Jesus might answer with a command that he hadn’t kept.  But this young man felt confidence about the commands Jesus did list.  The young man felt he was climbing the ladder.  His confidence boosted.

But . . he still felt he had not climbed the highest rung.

He did not say, “Oh, thank you, Jesus!” and go running off.  Maybe he sensed that there was still something he was missing.  Maybe he didn’t feel that he had reached eternal life.  Maybe he wanted to make sure he’d understood Jesus correctly that he would be ushered into Heaven when he died.

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

It was something that was never on his Chutes & Ladders board.

He’d felt he’d honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor . . but he’d never expected to hear his wealth was standing in the way of his eternal life.  He thought he knew all the ladders there were to climb, and all the slides to avoid.  He’d never realized hoarding his wealth was a sin, or that giving it away could be a command from God.

It was what he held dearest; it was what he did not see how he could let go.  His checklist crumpled, he slid all the way down the ladder to start and then he left.

But . . the account does not end there.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26, HCSB)

Jesus ends on a note of hope.

Yes, the young man has slid back to start–but that is exactly where he needs to be to find God’s grace.  He needs to realize that it isn’t his striving to climb up Heaven’s ladder that will get him eternal life.  It’s Jesus.  Jesus is the Good One.  No one else is good but God.  This young man didn’t realize (but Jesus did) that Jesus would give His life so that the slide our sin always causes and the ladder of self-righteousness we can never climb would be eradicated.  Jesus instead gave us an elevator.  An elevator paid for by His good, the good we do not have within us.

We don’t know what happened to this young man.  I think he came back.  What I know is, God worked the impossible possible when He forgave us all our debt through Jesus on the cross.  Without Jesus, we would all be on a slide right into Hell.  But because of Jesus, we can be on the rise to Heaven–not by our own climbing, but by the gift of Jesus Christ.

If this young man did come back, what he discovered was that it wasn’t giving the wealth that made him right with God or not right with God.  It was a test of the heart.  And his heart couldn’t stand up to the test.  In fact, none of our hearts can.  That’s why we have to rely on the good heart of Jesus Christ–the One who is good.

If that young man did come back, and if he gave all his wealth away, do you know how he did it?  Not by his heart, but by the love of Jesus Christ, shared with all who will believe in Him.  Through Jesus, we can do what is impossible for us.  Through Jesus, our hearts can withstand the test.  We can be brave for Jesus, through Jesus.

So where are you in the game of Chutes & Ladders?  Are you like the young man, and hope you’re way up high because of good choices you feel like you’ve made in your life?  Or instead do you feel like you’ve been on a slide for most of your life?  Or are you hoping you’re a bit further along in the game than your friends and neighbors?  When we live our lives like we’re playing Chutes & Ladders, only a long, devastating slide awaits us, because none of us can actually do any good–only One can do that.

Jesus has given His life so that we don’t have to play Chutes & Ladders.  He knows we’ll always lose in the end.  He knows that only His goodness can make a ladder to Heaven.  And because we cannot be good like He is, He has built us an elevator by His love on the cross for us.

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:14, WEB)

__________________________________________

Photograph by Ben Husmann, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/benhusmann/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I think you had a different version of the game than I did… 🙂 I don’t remember pictures on the board. Or maybe if anything some random pics of kids playing. I don’t remember good choices with ladders or bad choices with slides, I just remember rolling dice and going up or down. (Or maybe ours did have those pictures and I just never made any connection. Maybe there’s a lesson in that too.) It’s cool that there’s a sense of morality in the game, though.

    The rich young ruler always interested me too. I wonder if he came to Christ later, or even right then. Just because he “went away sad” doesn’t mean he rejected what Jesus told him.

    It is interesting that he asked, “What do I still lack?” Clearly he knew something was missing. We all do, even when we refuse to admit it.

    I love you, dear. I’m very proud of your work.


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