When the Game is Over, it All Goes Back in the Box (by John Ortberg)

Over many years now, I have read and enjoyed books by John Ortberg, who is an American pastor (not, however, a fundamentalist). So now I’m gradually re-reading them. Ortberg is not known for his short snappy titles, although they’re mostly quite memorable. The one I’ve just finished is entitled, ‘When the game is over, it all goes back in the box’. I last read it nine years ago.

As a fan of board games, I very much like the premise of this book. The author grew up playing games with his grandmother, who was evidently a wise and loving lady. He has taken principles learned in these games, and applies them to life and spirituality, with a mixture of explanations, anecdotes and some low-key Bible references.

Although the cover of my book shows some Scrabble tiles, the opening chapter is about the game of Monopoly, not a game I like at all. But I played it as a child, so understand the rules and frustrations of the game. It’s a tad confusing in that ours was the British version, and the author’s, unsurprisingly, the American one which has different property names. But still, the concepts of keeping score, being a good sport, focussing on what matters, etc, are universally applicable.

In a sense, it’s a slightly morbid book. The point is made several times that no matter what we acquire or achieve in our lifetimes, in the end our bodies return to the dust. While the author holds out the hope of eternal life, as I do, we can’t take anything physical with us when we die. Ortberg refers to the parable of the ‘rich fool’ a couple of times, as the ultimate in missing the point. No matter how hard we work, or how much money we earn, we end up without it. So it makes more sense to focus on what lasts: on building the Kingdom of God, spending time with our loved ones, sharing what we have with others, giving to those in need.

It’s not a preachy book, however. The author has a light, friendly style and many of his anecdotes are against himself. He acknowledges problems of materialism and worldly ambition, along with a growing realisation, as he grows older, that everything is temporary.

My only real problem with the book is the many references to American places, universities and sports. I have no clue what baseball or American football jargon means, and while I usually got the point of the stories or points made using examples from sports, much of the detail was completely foreign to me. I’d have preferred more about board games, as those are more universally understood. Moreover, the pieces of board games do indeed go ‘back in the box’ after the end of the game. Victory is brief, and even the King and Queen are thrown in with the pawns.

There’s much to think about in this book; I read a chapter at a time, and found plenty to ponder. It’s written for Christians, or those interested in the Christian life. I would recommend it to anyone who feels a bit jaded, or caught up in the material world. It’s very readable, and on the whole I found it quite encouraging.

Note that as well as the actual book, this has also been published as a study with participants' guides, so if you're buying it online, make sure you have the correct edition. 

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

No comments: