How do you know if gaming is an idol?
It’s bad enough that gaming gets a bad rap within Christian circles. Play a game at all and you may be looked down upon. I’ve definitely gotten that from parents when I served in youth ministry. But play a game for a few hours? Some would say you have an idol.
Is that what defines an idol? The amount of time spent on something? If so, than many things could be said to be an idol like our job, families, or even time serving at our local church. If we’re going to discern if gaming is an idol, then we need a solid definition to work off of.
Brad Bigney, in his book Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols, defines an idol as “…anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.” This definition works well because not only does it include time but it factors in our heart, mind, and more. All three work together to influence our decisions in day to day life. But does playing a game for a set amount of hours reveal idolatry? What about the amount of money spent on gaming? Can the same metric be used for other recreations like sports, reading, writing, etc.?
Rather than muddying the waters, it’s best to go back to defining what our priorities should be first. Once we have done that, then we can move forward to discerning if we are spending too much time gaming.
Priority #1: God
Our first priority is, of course, to God. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut 6:4-6) goes beyond just praying before our meals. When it comes to fulfilling our spiritual disciplines (prayer, study/journaling, evangelism, serving), these are all designed to take our focus off of self and focus on God. While we don’t want to come across as legalistic and attach numbers to any of these, we at least would recommend that things like Bible study, prayer, and evangelism are occurring regularly in the Christian life. After all, if we understand what God has saved us from, that should lead to a changed heart that cares deeply about matters relating to God and getting to know Him more. The psalmist’s love for the word of God can be seen in Psalm 119 and is a good one to emulate.
Priority #2: Family
Once those disciplines have been tended to, then the attention goes to family. Family is of incredible importance. Even moreso than a job or hobby; two things you can easily replace more than you can a family. As we tell newlywed listeners of our podcast, “If your spouse needs time with you, don’t pick up those sticks or they may not be there tomorrow”. If the Lord has seen fit to bless you with a family, you would be wise to invest in it and care for it.
When referring to Deut. 6:4-9 (as mentioned in the last priority), we see that it is the parent’s primary responsibility to train up their children in Scripture but also life in general. While a local youth group is a great supplement, it should never replace what the family’s role is in regards to discipleship in the home.
Priority #3: Work
So far, we have established a hierarchy of priorities that are God first, family second. What next? This is where work would come in to place. To work is a blessing from God and a means of providing. To neglect this, especially if you are caring for a family, is to be abusive and evil towards your family. I want to be clear on this point: I chose the word neglect intentionally. I’m aware of those who are unable to work for a variety of reasons and I believe there is grace given there. However, God’s word is clear on those who do not provide for their family (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and 1 Timothy 5:8).
God, Family, Work. After those three have been tended to, this is where recreation enters into the day. We all have free time, however small or grand. It’s in that time that we are able to choose to relax or tend to other minor priorities. While we would not necessarily advise filling all of that free time with gaming (or any other recreation for that matter), we also would not set a time limit on it either. Everyone’s free time is dynamic and different.
How do we know if something has become an idol? Well, as Brad Bigney stated before, if it captures our hearts more than God. We would extend that to if it is interfering with the fulfillment of tending to one’s family and work. In reality, if we seek God first, then everything else will sort itself out. Rather than fretting about spending too much time on a recreation, focus more on how much time can be spent with Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you from there.