Lynn, a visitor to our website, writes:
"Some people make comments about 'playing cards' as something that's 'not Christian'. What does the Bible say about this?"
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Thanks for writing. First of all, we'd have to say that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a deck of cards. They're simply pieces of paper with images on them; and are not evil in and of themselves. The morality of playing cards has to do with the way they are used rather than with the cards themselves.
What's more, we'd also have to say that there are lots of ways that cards can be used that are not, in and of themselves evil at all. There are lots of card games that are simply innocent pass-times; and there are lots of slight-of-hand tricks done with cards that are innocent amusements. (I used to enjoy building card-castles when I was a kid - although I was never much good at it. And almost all kids have ruined perfectly good decks of their parents cards by clothes-pinning them to the spokes of their bikes.) The rightness or wrongness of cards is determined in areas that are secondary to the cards themselves - specifically, what they're used for.
For example, a deck of cards may be used in a sinful way when they are used for gambling or games of chance. And even then, the Bible doesn't address gambling directly. We have to determine the morality of gambling - and subsequently, the use of cards themselves for gambling - by looking at what the Bible says about other applicable principles.
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"Games of chance" is really a misnomer; because "chance" as a word is used (in such cases) to mean that which happens in an absolutely spontaneous way and apart from any cause. But the Bible tells us - even with reference to so-called "games of chance" - "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD" (Prov. 16:33). There really is no such thing in God's universe as something that happens apart from a cause - and hence, there is no such thing as "chance" (in that sense). "Games of chance", however, operate as if this were not the case - as if God were not in control of His universe. It wouldn't be wrong, I believe, to play such games for pure entertainment - with the understanding that that's all they are. But when we gamble against "chance" in order to make money, or when we bet our own resources against "chance", then we're really placing our trust and our resources in something other than God's providential care, and are actually putting God to the test. This is a very wrong thing to do.
Gambling - including gambling through the use of cards - is also wrong because it is wasteful; and because it foolishly places the resources God has given us at the risk of loss. (And besides; such card games are, very often, not games of "chance" at all. Those skilled in the use of cards know how to manipulate them in such a way as to victimize other players.)
Those who seek to "get rich quick" through the card table sin by coveting; and the vast majority of those who have tried it only succeeded in making their families suffer, and rendered themselves incapable of meeting their financial obligations in the way God intended. Jesus leads us away from such "get-rich-quick" (that is to say, "get-poor-quicker") schemes when He says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
What's more, gambling and card games for money are built on the goal of defrauding someone else of what rightfully belongs to them. It encourages your opponent to put what belongs to them at risk for your sake; and this is wrong to do, because Jesus has taught us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). And what's more, if such games are played in such a way as to deliberately deceive, we are actually stealing what belongs to someone else. The Bible says, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need" (Eph. 4:28).
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As I've suggested, those arguments for the immorality of cards are based on "motives" and "goals" - not on the card games themselves. But sometimes, card games can be played with no intention to gamble, and no intention to gain, and no intention to deceive - and even still be wrong.
Suppose someone lived a life of chronic and addictive gambling; but then became convicted and deeply sorry for their sin, and repented of it having their faith in Jesus Christ. Suppose they then join a church, and begin to grow in the faith. Suppose such a person - a relatively new believer - goes to the home of another believer in the church for dinner. And suppose that, after dinner, their host (innocently) pulls out a deck of cards and asks if their guests would like to play a little game for fun. And suppose that, as a result, the new believer is outraged! "How can you play cards?!! Don't you know that the deck of cards is the devil's own prayer-book?!! How can you call yourself a Christian and even OWN a deck of cards?!!"
Now, a mature believer would recognize that a deck of cards, in and of itself, is amoral; and that this new believer has simply not yet matured in understanding. But if that deck of cards causes the younger believer to stumble and struggle - and even play in contradiction to the impulse of their weak conscience, then it would be unloving and insensitive to then proceed to play. It would, in fact, be a sin to do so. A different moral principle would be involved in such a case - that of refraining, because of the motive of love, from doing anything that would cause our brother to stumble.
Paul dealt with this matter in the Scriptures. In that case, he was dealing with the matter of eating certain foods that might be offensive to a new believer - a believer for whom such foods involved paganism, and are still considered offensive to him; but the principle is basically the same as it would be for cards. He wrote, "I am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him is is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food [and here, you could also insert "cards"], you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food [or "cards] the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil ..." (Rom. 14:14-16). If it comes down to the choice of loving our brother or exercising our freedom to play an innocent game of cards, we're to forgo our freedom and show loving care for the spiritual nurture of our brother instead.
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In summary, "cards" falls into a particular category that the Bible calls "doubtful things" (Rom. 14:1). The deck of cards is not immoral in and of itself; other considerations - such as motives and goals, and the whole question of love for others - has to be looked to in order to determine when cards are right or wrong to play.
Thank you for your good question; and I do hope this helps.
In Christ's love,
(All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436