In a whimsical way Geoff Lloyd, Pastor from Wyndham, helps us think about Pokémon Go and whether we can play it for God's glory. Whether you play Pokémon Go or not, much of the principles can be applied to many other hobbies!
Can I play Pokémon Go to the glory of God?
This article was originally written some time ago, at the height of Pokémon-Go hysteria. Remember when people were getting run over because they were so fixated on their phones?
The question came up in a Facebook chat with some other Christian friends who were playing the game, and though Pokémania has long since subsided, the principles outlined below can be applied to any craze or hobby that threatens to monopolise a Christian’s life.
It would be narrow minded to assume all video games, TV shows and movies have no place in a Christian’s life. Much better to recognise first, God has given His people a wide range of passions, from gamers to gardeners and second, that He expects us to use those passions to His great mission.
If you have no interest in Pokémon, I hope you can look beyond the context to see a framework that helps ensure our hobbies, whatever they are, are being used for the glory of God.
Question: Can I play Pokémon Go to the glory of God?
Short answer: Yes, but it probably won’t be the same as you’re playing it now.
Pokémon Go cannot become Pokémon God.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
God’s first and greatest command to Israel (His people) is clear: He is to have the top place in our emotional (heart), spiritual (soul) and physical (might) lives. He doesn’t leave a single area for us to commit to anything other than Him.
God’s place in our lives is the top of our priorities and centre of our affections. Nothing can share God’s spot. He is in place as God, or He is replaced as God. We are all specialists at replacing God with idols. We make them out of religion, relationships, hobbies, talents, even augmented realty games about collecting pocket monsters.
So how do I know if my love for Pokémon goes too far?
Tim Keller helpfully defines idolatry like this: If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning of life, and identity, then it is an idol.
That helps us form some questions: If Niantic suddenly withdraw Pokémon-Go, how would that affect me?
If a top-tier Pokémon appeared and I failed to catch it, would I be in a funk for a week?
When the game is offline because of updates or service, do I feel lost?
Has my gaming ever kept me from Church meetings? How about spending time with God in prayer and Bible reading or spending time with Christians? What about spending time with people generally?
Remember, the second greatest command: Mark 12:31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
And the new command Jesus has given His church: John 13:34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
We owe the world love. The most loving thing we can do is tell people about the plight of their souls and the forgiveness God achieved at the cross. Spending 8 hours a day with Pikachu and nobody else is tantamount to saying Calvary is worth less to me than ‘catchin’ ‘em all.’ That’s a big problem.
Missing out on time spent with Christians to game, is not only disobedience to the new commandment Jesus has given you, it reveals a serious issue with your attitude to Jesus and His church.
I am writing here as someone who has failed. In 1999 I spent my Christmas money on a Gameboy Colour with Pokémon Red and played the game until, with a little help from my mate Chris who had a trading cable and a dodgy dad who managed to get us Mew, I had all 151 originals. Pokémon Go was been a great nostalgia fuelled sprint down memory lane, but I know there have were times when it had a much higher spot on my priority list than it should have.
When that happens, Christians need to stop, reflect and repent. To restore God to His rightful place on the throne of our emotional, spiritual and physical lives. To reassess our priorities in the world and the high calling God has placed on our lives. We know that Christ is coming, and He’s not going to be impressed by your Pokédex when you give an account of how you’ve used your time in light of His death, resurrection and mission to save souls.
So should I delete the game and every other entertainment app? Probably Not.
I answer probably not to the first question in the same way I answer probably not to an alcoholic who asks should I never go in a bar again? (Yes, video gaming can be powerfully addictive!)
The key is, to take an ancient Greek maxim: know thyself. For great Christian examples of this look at Paul in Romans 7:15-24 and David in Psalm 1:1-3.
Are you the kind of person who will naturally be addicted to the feeling of success you get from gaming? If so, you need to think long and hard about whether you should delete the app. If you can’t go into the bar without getting drunk, don’t go. If you can’t download without getting hooked… After all, if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. Matthew 18:8
But what if you can manage your gaming? Some bullet points:
1) You have a great opportunity to be a witness in several ways:
a) Most MMO games have a big following of die-hard fans who will do anything to win. What a chance to be totally different! To be salt and light. Not getting annoyed when you waste 50 Great Balls on a Zubat that won’t stay still. Not getting angry when your phone glitches and Dragonite gets away (still sore). Enjoying the game, laughing at your errors, showing the world that there is more to life than being the ultimate Pokémaster!
b) At the height of the Pokemon Go craze, I had something in common with 6.6% of Kiwis I never had before. If you are playing a popular game, it’s going to be easy to make friends. Use that common ground to get alongside people. Invite them to church, help them out with in-game resources, compliment their gaming, make friends with the aim of winning souls for Christ.
c) There are lots of people doing stupid and illegal things in order to win. Be different.
2) Enjoy your gaming because it’s a gift from God.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
I love trout fishing. On a bright day, I can walk up the river, enjoy the scenery, catch some beautiful fish and thank God for each moment.
Older Christians don’t have a problem with a hobby like that because it doesn’t have any batteries.
How is Pokémon-Go any different? If you love it, great! But be thankful to the one who gave you the gift of a phone, a game, of thumbs, a brain, a clear day and a safe country to play it in. God loves to get the glory from things that make us happy, and the things that make us happy can only reach their potential for making us happy when they make us happy in Him.
3) Use your time wisely.
Robert Murray McCheyne was a Scottish pastor who kept a spiritual journal. Perhaps the most convicting entry to read is this: ‘Nothing significant happened today, still I must give an account for the last 24hrs.’
So ask two questions: 1) How much time can I, in good conscience give to Pokémon-Go before it becomes Pokémon-God?
4) How can I play Pokémon-Go so it is always lower on my priority list than God?
- I think praying, talking to God while you’re playing is a great idea. As you walk around, talk to God about your day.
- Getting the Bible or a sermon on your iPod is another brilliant idea.
- Thinking, where can I go to meet other players, who can I take with me to be my wingman? What opportunities can I create to share the gospel with this game?
- Have a weekly fast from the game. Set a time each week that you abstain from playing. (Sunday services don’t count; those were occupied long before Pokémon!)
Take the thing you love to do and use it for God’s glory. Turn your passion into mission. That way Pokémon-Go never becomes Pokémon-God, but a great tool for living as a Christian in a fallen world.