From a great chess player of Cincinnati, we learn that in the early part of the last century an artist who was also a great chess player painted a picture of a chess game. The players were a young man and Satan. The young man manipulated the white pieces; Satan the black pieces.
The issue of the game was this: should the young man win, he was to be forever free from the power of evil; should the devil win, the young man was to be his slave forever. The artist evidently believed in the supreme power of evil, for his picture presented the devil as victor.
In the conception of the artist, the devil had just moved his queen and had announced a checkmate in four moves. The young man's hand hovered over his rook; his face paled with amazement—there was no hope. The devil wins! He was to be a slave forever.
For years, this picture hung in a great art gallery. Chess players from all over the world viewed the picture. They acquiesced in the thought of the artist. The devil wins!
After several years a chess doubter arose; he studied the picture and became convinced that there was but one chess player upon the earth who could give him assurance that the artist of this picture was right in his conception of the winner.
The chess player was the aged Paul Morphy, a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. Morphy was a supreme master of chess in his day, an undefeated champion. A scheme was arranged through which Morphy was brought to Cincinnati to view the chess picture.
Morphy stood before the picture, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes. He was all concentration; he lifted and lowered his hands as, in imagination, he made and eliminated moves. Suddenly, his hand paused, his eyes burned with the vision of an unthought-of combination. Suddenly, he shouted, "Young man, make that move. That's the move!"
To the amazement of all, the old master, the supreme chess personality, has discovered a combination that the creating artist had not considered. The young man could have defeated the Devil.*
This story reminds us that we all face watershed moments in our lives – those times and places where we make decisions that have consequences with which we are destined to live for the remainder of our days.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers (chapters 13-14), the Children of Israel faced just such a moment at a place called Kadesh-Barnea. A little over a year after having left the slavery of Egypt, having been delivered from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, having been provided water as well as quail and manna to eat in the desert, having been delivered from the Amalekites, and having entered into a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai, they were then given the opportunity to go in and possess the promised land of Canaan.
But they refused. Their fears got the best of them. Having scouted the land, they saw that it was indeed a land of milk and honey. But they also plainly saw that it was a land inhabited by giants. Because of this singular bad decision, having said no to the will of God, they were destined to wander in the wilderness for the next forty years, while a whole generation of them died out. Only then were they given a second chance to possess the land.
In truth, each of us either has faced, or else will face, just such critical times of decision in our own lives. The important thing is to recognize that whenever God clearly gives us an opportunity and calls us to take a step of faith, we must respond with confidence, trusting Him to provide the victory as we make the decisions He would have us make and then travel the paths He would have us tread. Otherwise, we may well live with the consequences and suffer a life of defeat rather than victory.
In Reitz's painting, the young man made a bad decision at a critical time. Israel did the same at Kadesh-Barnea. May you and I learn from their mistakes, and make better ones for ourselves.
*SOURCES: At almost four inches, it is one of the thickest books in my entire library. It is Paul Lee Tan’s exhaustive work titled The Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations. And it contains a copy of the above story that I told this past Sunday morning. My original source was my memory, from having first heard Dr. Richard Lee tell it from the pulpit years ago when I was a small child.
A web search indicates that the story may have originated with J. Oswald Sanders. Dr. Sanders (1902-1992), of course, was General Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship (then known as China Inland Mission) who authored more than forty books on the Christian life and was a worldwide conference speaker for years.
One can read more about famed chess master Paul Morphy at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Morphy. His lifespan parallels that of the painting of "Checkmate" by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch, which hung at Paris' Louvre Art Museum between 1898 and 1899, presumably before going on tour, where he travelled from New Orleans to Cincinnati to see it. Cf. http://www.y-malawi.org/blog/checkmate/.
As is so often the case, the story exists in various versions on the internet, with slightly different artists, different paintings, and different chess masters. Either way, the point is well made: bad decisions can be costly.