The game of chess, as we know it, reflects the Medieval battle symbolism of Europe 1500 years ago: A King, accompanied by his Queen, living in fortified Castles (“Rooks”) protected by Knights (Battle Horses) and Bishops. The Pawns (Common Foot-soldiers) stand at the front line and give their lives to protect the King. Actually, these characters were adapted from earlier versions of the game probably originating in India, brought by merchants across the Silk Road into Persia (Iran), from which it spread and flourished in the Arab world, before being brought to Europe through Spain in the 6th century. No one knows what the individual pieces looked like back then.

Each chess piece has its own set of moves, and the player uses a combination of these in a war game against another Medieval kingdom. After numerous “moves” (up to 50 on each side), one player has the opponent’s King in jeopardy, with no way of escape. He announces triumphantly, “Checkmate!” — which mean literally, “The King is dead!”

Many people were introduced to the game of chess by the 2021 TV series “The Queen’s Gambit.” This six-part series portrays Beth, a troubled girl in an orphanage who has an uncanny ability to foresee chess moves long before they develop. Critics agree that, though the term is never used in the TV drama, Beth shows indications of autism, which in some cases can give a person an unusually acute ability to focus on one thing, like the movement of chess pieces.

The young Beth learns about The Queen’s Gambit, a traditional opening series of moves by Pawns that can lead to an ultimate checkmate when played properly. Through mastering this strategy, Beth becomes virtually unbeatable in chess tournaments. The series climaxes when she faces the Russian champion in the international final round, and after a fierce struggle, defeats him.

There was a real-life parallel in the 1950s rise of Bobby Fischer, an American chess prodigy at 14, who finally conquered the fabled Russian champion in 1972. This was seen as a Cold War victory for the West. Unfortunately, Bobby Fischer’s life from then on was all downhill.

In the 1990s, the emerging world of computers led to the developing of programs with Artificial Intelligence (AI) great enough to defeat the world’s most gifted chess experts consistently. Today, computer vs. human chess champion matches are seldom held. It seems there is a realization that, ultimately, the logic built into the universe (and packaged into a computer) is able to “outthink” the cleverest human mind. That’s what AI is — a way of glimpsing the intelligence that is part of every corner of Creation. A peek at the immense super-Mind of God.

In the final confrontation between God and Job, recorded in our Old Testament, God says:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:2-4)

I have a personal theory that, in spite of its complexity, chess is so mathematically predictable that whichever side has the first move will inevitably win. Well, in the created universe, God is, by definition, the First Mover, so he always wins!

Have you been challenging God’s wisdom, thinking you know better? Have you been sneaking in some self-centered thoughts, hoping he won’t notice? Do you believe you’re clever enough to come up with moves he hasn’t seen before?

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. (Galatians 6:7)


— Pastor George Van Alstine