Back in my college days (yes, yet again) we enjoyed getting together on Friday nights to play Rook. For those of you who don't know the game, it's a trick taking card game in which a trump suit is declared each hand, and the rook card, while having the highest point value, is always the lowest trump. The object is to make the most points. Rook is the ultimate poor-man's bridge--mostly a luck game with just a tinge of necessary card sense to make it interesting.
One evening my friend Pat had committed his partnership to take all the points to win the hand; as with "shooting the moon" in hearts, such a bid in Rook is a perilous proposition. Well, Pat lacked what would become the key trump card, and he lost the bid. Pat silently pushed himself away from the table, went up a short flight of stairs, out the front door, closed it behind him, shouted at the top of his voice "Why Me?" to an unsuspecting neighborhood, returned to the table without comment, and resumed the game.
In my blog last week you were privy to a comment I had sent to RJS, who blogs on Scott McKnight's site, regarding the question, "Is theology the queen of all sciences?" She graciously responded to my comments, and expressed her qualified agreement as a summary statement of some of her other commenters: "Theology is the queen of the sciences because it is the lens through which we see everything and because we are seeking God, even in the study of nature. But this is not the way it is generally used when it comes up in conversation. I think people tend to use it as a trump - and this doesn't seem quite right to me."
I agree with her completely; truth and the destiny of souls is not a matter of card game tactics. Unfortunately, we Christians can sometimes act that way. For example, we might obstinately respond to any inquiry or comment about the earth being older than 6K years by playing the trump card that the Bible says six days, not realizing that the data just cannot allow for such a short time, nor consider the possibility that both the Bible and the old earth data could be right.
At least three motivations can account for playing the trump card in the manner the person did in the above scenario: 1) fear that making any accommodations to the facts might undermine his/her faith, 2) the belief that science and theology are inimical, and 3) the person wants to win the argument. One could conceive others, of course, but the point is theology was used incorrectly with the idea that any argument would appear tantamount to saying God doesn't tell the truth. The trump card is therefore "God said it, I didn't" which ends the discussion.
To be fair, scientists can play this card game. I have been catching up on all the research concerning evolution. It hasn't taken long for me to see that different groups of reputable scientists can all look at the same comprehensive data, come to the same general conclusions, and yet offer divergent explanations. Despite this, some end up playing the trump card "It's a fact." So, for example, they play this trump concerning the evolution of human beings with the result that the singleness of Adam and Eve is no longer an option, and everyone must seek alternative explanations for the unambiguous Biblical claims. But from my vantage point--and I could yet be proven wrong--no one is left standing holding a smoking gun on any of the issues concerning evolution or creation. Nevertheless the trump has been played, and the conversation is terminated.
At least three motivations can account for scientists playing their trump card: 1) fear of not being accepted by their peers, 2) lost objectivity from being controlled by their presuppositions, and 3) the person wants to win the argument.
Other motivations could be behind both of the above trump plays. And yes, they can be the same for the different players. I know the ones I have suggested are true because, unfortunately, I have been guilty of each one at some point in my life. And I'm certain I'm not unique.
Some trump cards are completely true. But even in those cases, RJS's concern is that they are often not played properly. And I have the same concern. True trump cards should never be played to threaten, or to intimidate, but as an assurance--to benefit the other person.
When Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), He certainly could've played the "Your going to rot in hell for all your sinfulness" card. It's a true trump card. Instead, Jesus played a different equally true trump "Today, something marvelous is happening. God--your God, my God--is fulfilling His promises. He's bringing about a new creation. Come! follow Me and be a part of it. Enter his kingdom where we neither worship here nor over there, but together in Spirit and truth." Jesus didn't play trump as much as He offered trump to her. He did this by reaching out with a hand of mercy past the prejudices of her day (i.e. her gender and nationality). He even exposed her sins, not as condemnation but confirmation that the trump He handed her was a real assurance. The woman saw Jesus as credible because He knew her life and the trump priceless because He loved her, anyway. She would recognize her own sinfulness in the light of the hope of redemption Jesus said to be at the door.
Why do we easily forget this account of our Lord? We tend to play trump in the rage of battle, under the auspices of our prejudices, with the aim of personal vindication. We forget "knowledge puffs up; love edifies." I'm certain my friend Pat would have felt much better if his partner had played the missing trump that night because it would have relieved a whole lot of stress and made his partnerships' victory more certain. Instead his opponent played the card to destroy him. The trump card was identical in either event, what happened that night depended on who held it, which, of course, would determine how it would be played. Alas, such is the way of card games. But life is no card game. When we stand before Christ, the question before us will be "Did you play to win or so the other person would win?" We should take this seriously because I can hear our Lord warning us: "Look out! I'm holdin' trump."