I listened to portions of an interesting program on NPR this morning while wandering around town doing errands. It was on evolution, the nature of altruism and some experiments done with the game The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Maybe you listened to all of it and can say more. As for me, I didn’t even get the names of the people being interviewed. That, of course, does not stop me from making a few comments.
Are there strategies in Prisoner’s Dilemma that are more likely, or even guaranteed, to win? Apparently there are. Played often enough, an opening move of cooperation followed by moves that mirror whatever one’s opponent did can score more points and thereby win. It was also noted that successive iterations of strategies that learn from previous rounds of the game can end up with the bad guys obliterating the good guys - the devil strategy overwhelming the Jesus strategy.
Which brings me to my point: the wisdom of God that is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks. The foolish stumbling block of Christian faith is that it is God, and not Prisoner’s Dilemma strategies, who determines the final outcome, and that that outcome has already been accomplished by the decisive victory of life over death on the cross. It makes no sense. It would be an utter failure in the psych lab, and it could not possibly pass a logic 101 exam. But God does not seem to be persuaded by what we think is required to make sense, or what strategies we employ to gain the advantage over our opponents.
To be a Christian is not to wallow in altruism, whatever that may be; nor is it to win through successive iterations of games and strategies. It is to live in the faith that, in Christ, the game is over and God has won. It’s our faith. I wish we lived as if we believed it. We say we do as we affirm our faith each week, but mostly we backstop it with some Prisoner’s Dilemma strategies of our own just to make sure.
I don’t think God is terribly surprised. This week’s message on the sign board at the local Methodist Church said it well: “God is not disillusioned with us. He never had any illusions in the first place.” Glad to hear it.