This is Faith in Play #72: Backup, for November 2023.
I once played with a referee who had a very interesting strategy. He would maneuver players into very dangerous ventures in part by providing them with trump cards, aces up their sleeves as it were, which could be character lifelines in an emergent situation. Then once the characters were committed, he would create a scene in which the player was forced to use the lifeline, leaving him without it for the duration of the potentially deadly mission.
I noticed this when I had undertaken a very dangerous journey into the underdark, my character caught between a duty of honor and the fact that members of his class had no fear. I was comfortable because he had recently acquired a single-use summoning scroll that would bring supernatural aid when needed. We were ambushed, and just as it appeared we would barely get through alive but victorious, they managed to gate in powerful reinforcements. Running out of options, I did the same, and their reinforcements immediately retreated. As the dust settled, I realized I had spent my lifeline, and still had a lot of dangers ahead. I was not going to feel safe for quite a while.
That, of course, is what the referee wanted. He wanted me to be nervous, to recognize that this was not safe, and I could lose this character at any moment. To his mind, our adventures would be more exciting if we were on edge.
In life, we frequently have backup plans–emergency bank accounts or cash in a bedroom drawer, insurance policies, spare equipment. These are good things to have, and God does not at all disapprove of us being prepared for unexpected trouble. Still, like that referee, sometimes God strips us of our safety nets, our parachutes, our back-up plans. However, He does this for a very different reason: God wants us to be aware that He is caring for us, that it is He who upholds us, and not our own cleverness, abilities, and backup plans. Some Christians believe that insurance policies demonstrate a lack of faith, that we should trust God and not money to bring us through trouble. Yet these believers will keep a spare tire in the trunk of their car. A famous president once said, “Trust, but verify.” In the same way, we should trust, but also take such steps as seem wise in our circumstances to be ready for possible problems.
So the lesson of the game is the opposite of the lesson of life. When God strips us of our safety nets, it is because He wants us to put our trust in Him, to know that He has us in His hand. It’s certainly not wrong to have a backup plan, to have insurance, to subscribe to the auto club. However, it is wrong to put our trust in the backup plans. They aren’t there in case God fails, because God doesn’t fail. They’re there because God often uses our wisdom to get us out of our difficulties.
I’m often reminded that most of us think that we worked to earn our paychecks, and therefore the money is ours, the fruit of our labor. God wants us to remember that He gives us our paychecks, makes it possible for us to have jobs and to work at them. In the same way, God uses our backup plans to save us when we are in need, and our gratitude should be to Him, not to our own cleverness.
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