“I understand that certain professions require highly specified training. Neurosurgeons need those pre-med classes and biochemical engineers need to get calculus behind them… However, those doctors and engineers are still human beings, and whatever their career courses may hold for them, their first and primary task is becoming the kind of human beings that can be entrusted with power and influence.” – John Eldredge, Killing Lions
Imagine achieving the goal you’d been aggressively pursuing for years and finding it wasn’t enough and wouldn’t satisfy. It’s the famous lesson of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the deathbed realization, “So it really wasn’t about how much money I could earn.” “Oh, my achievements don’t follow me beyond the grave.”
My favorite game is a deck-building game called Dominion. My friends and family will tell you I’m always trying to persuade them to play it with me. It has three types of cards: Action cards, Victory cards, and Treasure cards, which function as money. Action cards are by far the most exciting. They make the game fun. Expansion packs are mostly new Action cards. Action cards have colorful illustrations the others don’t. In Dominion, money is recyclable (like the rest of your deck) and Action cards exist to get as much of it as possible in each turn.
Action cards are fun. Treasure cards are necessary. But Dominion is won by having the most victory points.
New Dominion players often forget Treasure and Action cards are means and not ends. Distracted by the allure of recyclable money, they assume whenever they can afford to buy an exciting Action card they should. The end of the game sneaks up on them before they’ve seriously pursued Victory cards.
When the game is over, nothing else matters but victory points. If you didn’t have your priorities straight, you can’t quickly make up for it at the end.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but the life applications practically draw themselves. How easily people focus their lives on the jobs that earn money. Money is fun. Jobs are necessary. But we need to keep them in perspective. Obviously, it’s what we do with our jobs and money that counts and lasts when the game of life is over.
“So what are real life victory points?” I asked my main Dominion partner as we drove across Stanford’s campus this November, having played hours of the game in the prior week. We weren’t sure. I’d just finished excitedly explaining the rest of my analogy, but this pivotal consideration gave us pause.
As I pondered the question again later, Proverbs 11:4 jumped out at me with an answer: “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath [or judgment], but righteousness delivers from death” (NIV). Certainly true of Dominion if “righteousness” is “victory points” and “death” is losing.
“Judgment day” has different meanings for different people, but in any case it’s natural to look back over someone’s life on the occasion of their death and have an opinion (judgment) as to whether it was mostly good or bad. When we’re done playing the game, money has no weight or value and jobs have no inherent benefit. Were they spent wisely? That is to say, were they spent on something imperishable before time was up? That’s all that matters.
What does victory look like in a human life?
Victory for a human is winning battles against evil. You can spend everything, all of yourself, in this pursuit, and you will never run out of things to do, and your time will never be wasted. Rejecting hatred, hard-heartedness, arrogance, jealousy, greed, bitterness, etc. will take all of your money, skill, and effort.
Temptations to evil are constant. You will be tempted to lie and cheat, to harshly judge and label those with different opinions than your own, all to make your life more comfortable. Evil will oppose your good intentions; you’ll be misunderstood, sabotaged, betrayed.
Goodness must be cultivated. Of course, we become what we repeatedly do. A life in pursuit of victory gradually shapes us into the type of person who finds satisfaction and delight in goodness; “the kind of human being that can be entrusted with power and influence.”
Defeating evil requires strategy. It is not conquered carelessly. Unless actively resisted, it wins; look around at this world. But the good news is that you can actively resist it. Keep your eyes on the prize. You can win at Dominion, and you can win at life.