Trying to explain the value of video games to my wife is a losing proposition. After all, nothing physical is gained. Your status in the world is not improved (well, at least in most circles!). You are not healthier, and you have likely not used Halo to spread the gospel to the nations. Aside from the value of shared experience, which can be gained in many other contexts as well, it is a basically meaningless activity.
What is worse is that this same reasoning can be extended to many other areas. Most sporting events we watch on TV or in person, most board games we play, most riddles and puzzles we solve and most hobbies we have do not seem to advance our financial, mental, physical, or spiritual lives. Why then, do we do them? Do these things have value? How can we be thoughtful about their place in our lives?
The answer begins, I think, in Genesis. When God created the world, each of his creations was designed simply to be. The stars simply burn, the winds simply blow, and animals just crawl around and survive. Man, though, was given an additional purpose. He is not fulfilled by simply existing, he is also to, “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth… And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:26-28)
So, man’s first purpose is to master his environment, to be an administrator of God’s rule. We were created in the image of God so that God might be honored in our control and wise care for his creation.
The story takes a turn, though, when man sins. God deals out a significant curse in regard to our original purpose; “cursed is the ground because of you, in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;” (Gen. 3:17) Because of sin’s existence in the world, fulfilling our mission of caring for and administering creation in submission to God is made much more challenging. Even so, God reaffirms his call to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth when Noah emerges from the Ark in Genesis 9.
Mankind, sneaky little devils that we were/are, attempted to get around this problem. In Genesis 9, mankind sought to unify, to ignore God’s call to spread out over the earth for the sake of his creation and instead to worship Self, to set up a kingdom that could accomplish anything. God thwarted this act of self-worship by introducing the confusion of languages. But the call to be fruitful and subdue the earth remained.
Even the introduction of the gospel does not give opportunity to relax. In Luke 19, Christ tells the parable of the ten minas, in which it is made clear that we will all be called to account for what we did with what we are given. From then on, the people of God are called to, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil. 2:12)
Why is all this important? It’s because we must recognize that a key component of our design as humans is a restless desire to master challenges and create order. As bearers of the image of God, we find great pleasure in correcting what is broken, defeating challenges, solving problems, and strengthening ourselves for the next challenge. This impulse is a good one because it enables us to never be satisfied as we try to fulfill our role as God’s agents in the world.
Of course, the presence of sin in the world means that creating order is not our most pressing problem. Restoring a right relationship with God is a necessary prerequisite to correctly growing into your role as his administrator. But knowing ourselves to be inherently driven to challenge ourselves and master the rules of the world around us is a helpful part of determining the value of our various activities.
So then, I have two recommendations.
First, enjoy your hobbies! Perhaps you are piecing together a model airplane, fishing, blasting virtual zombies, or completing a puzzle. Whatever the case, feel free to enjoy challenges as a helpful way of sharpening your mind, relaxing your spirit, enjoying the impulses God has given, and improving your ability to defeat problems.
But second, be careful to evaluate the place of hobbies in your life as a piece of the whole. They have value, but they are a negative thing for you if they are consistently detrimental to your spiritual health, your relationships, and your primary role of being a light to the world. It is true that mastery of our environment is good, but only if it is contributing to our larger roles in the Kingdom of God.