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

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

Art and Good

I figured out pretty much at birth that, being the only grandchild, I could basically scribble on a piece of paper, set a price on it, and it would be sold–to my grandparents.

But was my art really good?

The question is at the heart of everything we do, unless we’re doing it just for pleasure:

What is good?

If you’ve ever been around kids doing work of any kind, they like to ask “good” questions–over and over.  Is this good?  Am I doing good?  Did I do a good job? 

.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .          .

I stood coloring a Rainbow Bright picture from the coloring book of a neighborhood friend, Carly.  I didn’t do much of anything sitting–I was too antsy.  Carly colored a picture, too, but she was sitting.  There must be something to that, because her picture turned out like something Crayola would use to advertise their product.  My picture turned out like something the washing machine would do with a load of markers and a coloring book.

Carly had spent minutes and minutes on her picture, filling it in with crayons.  I spent seconds and seconds on mine, filling it in with markers.  Hers was lovely.  Mine . . wasn’t.  And I knew it.

This was turning out to be very different than drawing a picture at my grandparents’ house.  At my grandparents’ house, my grandparents thought my pictures were on the class of Renoirs and Matisses.  At my grandparents’ house, I could write prices on my pictures and my grandmother would give me whatever coins I asked for (and my mother allowed).  But here, here this all seemed very different.  My talent seemed rather . . talentless.  Carly seemed rather . . . better.

We got the idea we would find out who had the best picture.

We tried to decide by a Congressional move.  I proposed my picture; she proposed hers.  The result was expectable.  She voted for her picture.  I (dishonestly) voted for my picture.  We reached a real stalemate.

Carly wasn’t changing her vote (and rightly so).  I wasn’t changing my vote, either.  After all, my grandparents didn’t pay for Carly’s pictures.  I’d never seen them give a dime to her.  Then again, I’d never seen her try to sell them a picture, either.

Maybe they would buy her pictures if they saw them.

Maybe I would go out of business.

After the tied vote, we wondered how to find out who had the best picture.  I think it was Carly who suggested brightly we ask her mom.

This cheered us both up.  A decision would surely be made and we could move on.

We excitedly brought our pictures to her mother.  Delusionally, I thought I still had a chance.  Not to make any quarters off the deal, but maybe, just maybe, to win.

I remember us running up to Carly’s mother, both of us shoving our pictures very near her eyeballs and shouting, “Who do you like better, who do you like better?”

Carly said slyly, “You have to pick one!”

Carly’s mother looked very much like she wished her reading in the sun had not been interrupted by a dreadful question.  There is no doubt she saw, instantly, which was better.  A walrus could have seen which one was better, and walruses are not so much into art.  And there is no doubt she had a secret happy thought like, “Thank goodness my daughter colored that one.”

But Carly’s mother said she could not decide.  She said they were both wonderful.  (I wonder if she told her daughter more later after I was gone.)

Carly and I both felt good about ourselves (though Carly should have felt cheated) and we went on to the next game, like figuring out what her sparkle toothpaste tasted like.

But now I’d seen what Carly could do.  And what with Carly’s idea of coloring inside the lines, and her patience, and her beautiful palette choices, I was not so sure I measured up.  Maybe my drawings should go on sale for half-price.

.          .           .          .           .           .          .           .           .          .

Art is subjective.

I prefer a cute scribbledly dog to a haunted-looking room with artichokes.

There’s a kind of thinking out there, sometimes hidden, sometimes not, that morality is a lot like art.

What one person likes, another person might not.  What’s good for one person, might not be good for another.  Lots of people are handing out moral advice like Carly’s mom: it’s all equal (or most of it’s equal, without any definition of what “most of it” is) or, as a popular expression goes, It’s all good.

Art is subjective; there’s no doubt about it.  One of my favorite pieces of art–really legendary–is a hippo that my mother drew that looks extremely unlike a hippo.  Unfortunately, although I begged my mother to always keep that drawing and laughed raucously every time I saw it, something mysterious happened to it.  It is no more.  I would pay good money to have that hippo back.

Art is subjective, but art is also objective.

Not everyone agrees on what level of quality a piece of artwork is on, but if I drew this on a canvas–

A new version of “San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight”. My rendition is totally my own intellectual property. Unauthorized copies are strictly prohibited. To request a signed canvas of this work or to inquire about pricing, do not hesitate to contact me.

–very few would say it was of equal quality with Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight.  People certainly don’t always agree on the quality of a piece, but there is agreement that my canvas is not worth millions.  (That’s really kinda too bad.)  We don’t easily agree on what is good quality, but it’s very easy to pick out inferior quality.  This is true with morality, too.  Not everybody agrees it is good not to steal, to give forgiveness to others, or to stay celibate until marriage.  But nearly everybody agrees it is not a good idea to set houses on fire, blow up buildings, and kill their family.

Even though we don’t always agree on the quality of an art piece, this doesn’t mean there isn’t an objective amount of quality to it.  If there were no objective quality, then there really would be no difference between my napkin and San Giorgio Twilight.  But everybody seems to know differently, because I haven’t gotten any offers on it so far.

For things to have more or less quality means there is such a thing as quality, and there can only be quality if there is a standard for quality.  If quality has no standard–can change at the whim of the viewer–then it is totally meaningless to have any art museum, because anybody could draw just as well as anybody else.  All art becomes equal without a standard.  And in that case, either I should be offered all the millions for my napkin that a Monet receives, or the Monet is as worthless as my napkin.

But it isn’t just the quality with which a piece of art is drawn.  Art itself carries an inescapable morality with it!  It is not the same to draw a picture of a little girl petting her cat as to draw a skeleton standing on top of a heap of bones.

Trying to compare morality to art would be something like trying to compare a pen to the letter ‘q’.  The letter ‘q’ is drawn by the pen.  Art, like everything else we do, is drawn by morality. There is nothing we can do that is on neutral ground, because by the very act of doing it we are drawing with the pen of good or evil.

The truth always wins out.  I know Carly’s picture was better than mine.  My jerky scrawls could not compare to her fulfilling of the space inside the lines.  Art, it turns out, isn’t any more subjective than anything else we do.  The quality always reflects the goodness or badness of the artist.

Our lives always reflect the goodness or badness of us.  One day, we will all hold up the blank canvas we were given–our lives–and show what we have done with it.  God won’t be like Carly’s mom.  He won’t tells us we have all done a good job and we should be proud of ourselves, because God cannot lie.

Imagine the paintings you hate most in the world.  Would you hang them in your house?  Neither would God let us into Heaven with our ruined and ugly lives to ruin and uglify His home.  God will not live with evil in Heaven.  Evil drags with it sickness, suffering, and death.  Nobody wants to go to Heaven to be sick, suffer, or die.

Morality is subjective, in the sense that art is subjective.  Different people have different opinions about morality. But morality is also objective.  We will all, one day, answer to God by His standard.  As an artist is responsible to whoever commissions him, how much more so are we responsible to our Creator?  God has given us the breath in our lungs, the sun that warms us, the heart that keeps us alive.  God has the right to tell us how to live our lives.  God gave us the lives that we live.

Right now, Pablo Picassos sell for tens of millions and a M.S. Wakefields for tens of dollars.  But that doesn’t mean Wakefield’s paintings are less valuable than Picassos.  It simply means they are less popular.  (Although I would rather have a Wakefield to look at.)

One day, it won’t matter what morality was popular.  It will only matter what morality was right.  The true value of everything will be seen.

He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. (Daniel 2:22, NLT)

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)

“For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. (Jesus, quoted in Mark 4:22, NASB)


Romans 8:8

That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. (Romans 8:8)

No good works are ever going to get us to Heaven because, without Jesus Christ, they aren’t good works.  They are bad works.  And with Jesus Christ, those good works don’t need to get us to Heaven, because Jesus Christ has already paid for our entrance there!

Have you ever tried very hard to do good works to please God?  It’s a hard path and it leads to the same place trying to do bad works leads: Hell.

In Pilgrim’s Progress[1], an analogy about the Christian life, the main character—appropriately named Christian—hears that salvation from destruction is possible.  He sets out on a journey to find salvation.  Along the way, a man tells him that he needs to go over a hill to the town of Morality to find a man named Legality.  That sounds easy enough.

But when he starts climbing the hill, he discovers he’s made a BIG mistake.  The hill is impossibly high, and he’s afraid he’s going to fall to his death.  As if this isn’t hard enough, the fires of Hell start shooting up from the ground.  He very nearly dies trying to get back down.

The problem with trying to get to Heaven doing good works is that we can’t do good works if we’re bad.  We can certainly make choices that are less horrible than other choices, but our sin nature doesn’t allow us to make a single good choice.  Good works are only possible through Jesus Christ, and at the point you believe in Jesus, you don’t need those good works, you want to do them!

That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. (Romans 8:8)


[1] Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, 1678.  This is a wonderful story, but I would recommend reading a modern translation, since the English of his day is difficult to read now.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Atheistic Argument #1: Religious People Don’t Do Any Better Than Atheists, and Many of Them Do Far Worse.

Atheist Argument #1

Religious people don’t do any better than atheists in the world, and many of them do far worse.

This is a major contention of atheists.

But how can an atheist make that claim if there is no objective right and wrong?  If everything is subjective–up for grabs–then who is to say who did better than any other person?

And how can an atheist lump all religious people together and make a blanket statement about them?  Religious people usually believe there is only 1 correct religion!  So this would be something like saying, “Political people don’t do any better than those who never vote, and many of them do far worse.”  You can’t specifically talk about any one political party when you say that.  Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, etc., are very different in their beliefs.  But you don’t give any particular party a chance to speak up when you throw them all together under one category.

Religion is the same way.  “Religion” is a category that’s been created for anyone who believes in a god or gods and/or other spiritual beings.  So when you say, “Religious people don’t do any better than atheists” you’re putting Christianity and Judaism and tree-worshipers and Bahai and Unitarians and Satan worshipers and the ancient Greeks who believed in what is now known as mythology and Shinto and Islam and all groups called by others as “cults” and Mormonism and Buddhism and so on and so on and so on and so on in the same group.  This umbrella called “religion” is a ridiculous way to make generalized statements about people, because we have nothing in common with each other other than that you can say we all believe in a god or gods (or God, as I would say when my God is lumped into this category).

I vote.  A lot of people vote.  A few people don’t like to vote.  You could lump me together with everyone in America who votes but it is a commonality of attitude rather than worldview: it shows only that we think voting is important.  If you introduced me to someone who liked to vote and said, “You guys are going to get along great because you both vote” . . . I don’t think so.

You could say something like, “Way more people who vote cause political injustice than people who don’t vote” . . . but, well, I guess I would expect that.  They’re more involved!  You could say, “People who vote aren’t any better than people who don’t vote,” . . . but, again, how is this hardly fair?  You’ve put me in a group against my will and then made statements about me.  All right, you can do that, but it isn’t showing me what I want to know, which is information about people I do put myself in a group with.

If you want to pick a particular political party and make a statement . . . now you have something we can discuss.  You can say, “Way more people who are Republicans/Democrats/Libertarians/Independents cause political injustice than people who don’t vote.”  Now we can have a discussion.  If I’m familiar with my political party, I can discuss our strengths and weaknesses and assess the validity of your assertion.  But I can’t do that very well when you put me in with people I don’t even agree with politically!

The same is true with’ religion’.  An atheist who makes a statement about religion is grouping people by their attitude of belief in a god or gods (or God, as I will still say about my God).  The atheist is not grouping people by worldviews.

If an atheist wants to attack one particular religion, that’s one thing, but no one should toss all religions in a group together and then expect any one group to be able to respond to a statement about the whole group’s ‘ethics’–because we don’t share ethics, we share only an attitude of belief–an attitude driven by entirely different motivations, which is exactly where the ethics come into play.


See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on February 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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