There are many ways to conceive of God , and this past Sabbath one of our congregation’s deacons chose to look at God in the manner of a grandmaster of chess. As is the case with any message like this, viewing God in the context of chess prompts an obvious discussion that all conceptions of God are limited and that God’s abilities in this regard far exceed those of any human (or computer) chess master. While this may seem obvious, it is often necessary that we subject our own discussions of God, or even one facet of God, to this sort of admission because there are far too many people who allow their limited comparisons of God to put Him into a box in their own mind and therefore to miss his greatness and incomprehensibility. After all, that was one of the major defects of Job’s friends, who viewed God’s behavior in too narrow of a light and thus proved to be bad counselors because they thought it necessary to attack the character of Job in order to defend the character of God, which is ultimately unnecessary.
Viewing God as a chessmaster is an illuminating way to view God, although not necessarily a comforting one. The speaker looked at how God maneuvered Israel into Egypt and how he brought Joseph to the point of being second-in-command in Egypt, and how Joseph came to realize the purpose of what God had been doing. Yet most people would probably not want to be viewed as pawns or even as higher pieces on a board. For Joseph, the knowledge that God had worked it out was something that gave him comfort during the years of his adulthood because it brought the crises of his early adulthood into focus and gave meaning to it. He could see being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and being thrown in jail for a sin and crime he steadfastly refused to commit were the ways that God worked divine providence for the Egyptians as well as his own family. Much about life can seem without purpose but the knowledge that God is working out a plan by working out our circumstances demonstrates to us that there is much that we have to appreciate because God is ultimately in control.
That feeling that God is in control, though, requires a few elements that are not always as easy to understand. The first is that our existence in many ways is a chess-like game, although obviously far more complicated. Viewing our existence as a kind of game encourages a sort of thinking that many people do not engage in. To the extent that our lives are like games means that there is a certain end in mind, that there are rules, that there is a game master and game designer, and that that there are certain behaviors that are ultimately beneficial and certain qualities that are not. All of this leads us to live differently than we would otherwise. Observant people who believed that life was in some ways a simulation or a game would then seek to engage in a study of what the game of life was meant to encourage, since our observation of the history and behavior of other players would indicate that success does not always appear as one would straightforwardly expect and that dying with the most things is not the sort of glorious victory that many might think. The relationship between success and our own enjoyment is complicated and nuanced.
The thought of being pieces on a chessboard cuts against our free will as well. If we think long and hard about our existence, we become aware of how hopeless the task of being fully responsible for our lives is. It does not take a high degree of reflectiveness in one’s nature to understand that we are subject to a great deal of influences that are beyond our control or even comprehension. When we have examined the influence of heredity, family upbringing, and the downward pull of the world around us, aside from those own habits and inclinations that we have laboriously worked on ourselves, there is very little, sometimes, in our lives that is subject to conscious thought and reflection. And yet if we are free, we must be responsible. We wiggle as hard as we might to maintain both freedom from laws and moral restrictions that we find burdensome while simultaneously freeing ourselves from burdensome responsibilities, but the effort is an immensely wearisome one. One does not see chess pieces struggling the same way that we do. Having chess pieces with free will but still limited movement must be a challenge that only the best grandmaster of all time would even want to consider.
 See, for example: