Monopoly and the Game of Life

Not too long ago, one of our boys came home with a McDonald’s Monopoly game piece which promised that we were just one piece away from winning their grand prize. With his Park Place, we figured we were just Boardwalk away from retirement! Of course, us and 250 million other people who got Park Place, who were also waiting for the two Boardwalk game pieces in the ENTIRE WORLD! But, alas, despite our frequent Happy Meals and Big Macs, the Grand Prize escaped us.

Monopoly is a fascinating piece of game history. The game was invented during the Depression by Charles Darrow. Initially Parker Brothers turned the game town citing design errors. Darrow produced his own copies of the game, and after its initial success, Parker Brothers picked it up. By 1935, the New York Times reported it as the most popular game in the country.

Interestingly, despite changes in society (not many people wear top hats these days, and those who do tend to be a little weird) and updates to the game, the top hat has remained a popular game piece.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of the game: accumulate property; improve your assets with houses and hotels; and hope for frequent visits from your opponents from whom you charge ever-increasing fees when they happen to grow your business by the chance of the dice.

Maybe you have a favorite game piece. Mine is the car. Another perennial favorite is the top hat, which symbolizes the sort of wealth to which many people aspire. Interestingly, despite changes in society (not many people wear top hats these days, and those who do tend to be a little weird) and updates to the game, the top hat has remained a popular game piece.

Now, one’s willingness to play the game of Monopoly depends on a few conditions. For instance, there must be a predictable number of “pay income tax” and “go-to-jail” cards. These risks seem manageable when you know in advance that there are only a limited number of risks and the potential rewards seem to outweigh them. It is the enticement of a free market system.

In addition, the banking system must be reliable. There is a set amount of money that the bank possesses. The bank is entrusted to operate under accepted and predictable standards with little or no independent discretion. If the bank runs out of money due to overextending credit to players who cannot afford their houses and hotels and now wants to raise taxes for all who play the game, or worse, if the bank wants to change the rules of the game despite what the rule book states, players quickly lose faith in the banker and lose interest in the game.

Suppose the bank raised the taxes on the wealthiest Monopoly players so as to even out the game for those who have the least amount of property, or declare that Free Parking is no longer free and the tolls charged for parking go to the bankers, or maybe the bank determines that properties that were never intended to constitute a Monopoly may now be partnered together under a new domestic partner arrangement, such that Boardwalk could now partner with Baltic to form a new Monopoly or a railroad and a utility can now merge. Wouldn’t the game lose some of its challenge, and don’t you think players would lose their motivation to try?

Even worse, suppose the bank determined that the value or life of some players was not as high as the value of others. Would we not stand up and say that the bank has gone too far?

I think you see my point.

Monopoly may parallel our lives, but it doesn’t parallel our ministry. See, the curious thing about faith is that you and I don’t get to set the rules. Indeed, the game is not controlled by a roll of the dice but by the game’s creator. I don’t get to hold up a rule book and demand that God work in my life in the way that I think He should. Instead, when I choose to enter into a relationship with Him, I relinquish my rights as owner, banker, and even rules official. And when I commit my life to His service, I give up the pursuit of my own plans for the greater purpose of pursuing His will for my life.

In the meantime, with confidence that His Word never changes, take comfort in the fact that He never defaults on a promise, never mismanages what you entrust to Him, and never overextends His inexhaustible supply of grace.

May I suggest to you that before you seek to find the place that God has for you to serve, that you discover the servant whom God desires you to be. You will notice that there is more in Scripture about who a minister is than what a minister does (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). And, by uncovering who it is that God wants you to be, He may in the process begin to reveal what it is that He wants you to do. In the meantime, with confidence that His Word never changes, take comfort in the fact that He never defaults on a promise, never mismanages what you entrust to Him, and never overextends His inexhaustible supply of grace.

Deron Biles

Deron Biles

Dean of Extension Education, Associate Dean for the Doctor of Ministry Program, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Biles serves as Dean of Extension Education and teaches in the School of Theology. He is married to Jaye and has four boys.
Twitter: @deronjbiles
Deron Biles

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