Understanding the Qur’an (Episode 3: Life as a Game)

Man reading Qur'an

In this series of posts about the religion of Islam, I am sharing thoughts that have occurred to me while reading the Qur’an. Today, I’d like to refer to instances where the word ‘game’ is used in the Qur’an. This is of particular interest to me personally because I have authored several books in which I described God’s purposes in creation as a game (albeit a serious one — indeed, there is a chapter in my book The God Articles entitled ‘The Most Serious of Games’ which demonstrates my appreciation of the serious nature of God’s creative work).

I find in the Qur’an two contrasting ideas related to the word ‘game’ which I will discuss in this article (the word ‘game’ is used in the Qur’an with reference to food as well, but that usage is not relevant to the present discussion which will focus solely on theological usage).

It should be noted at the outset that I don’t speak Arabic (the original language of the Qur’an), so I am not able to comment on matters of translation. I would be grateful for any clarifications or elucidations from Arabic speaking readers of this blog, if anyone would like to comment.

It’s interesting to consider two uses of the word ‘game’ in Sura 6:

The life of this world is nothing but a game and a distraction; the Home in the Hereafter is best for those who are aware of God. Why will you [people] not understand?

Sura 6:32

And then later in the same sura:

Leave to themselves those who take their religion for a mere game and distraction and are deceived by the life of this world, but continue to remind them with the [Qur’an], lest any soul be damned by what it has done—it will have no one to protect it from God and no one to intercede; whatever ransom it may offer will not be accepted.

Sura 6:70a

The word ‘game’ in verse 32 is used very differently to its use in verse 70. On first glance it might seem that God is saying life is only a game, and then contradicting Himself by saying life is not a game. Because I believe God must have included the contrast intentionally, we should probably look a little deeper to try to understand the different uses.

My own interpretation is that we should draw a distinction between whether life is a game to God (which I think is the meaning behind verse 32) and whether life is a game for human beings (an idea which is strongly rejected in verse 70). When I initially reflected upon these two scriptures, I thought about how God is free from any kind of trouble or challenge: He is impassible. Therefore, perhaps He is willing to describe creation as a game because to Him, it is not all that serious — He has nothing to lose and does not suffer. Human beings, on the other hand, are able to suffer, and have the prospect of hell to contend with. Life is therefore a serious matter for human beings and not merely a game. This is one way the apparently conflicting uses of the word ‘game’ in Sura 6 might be reconciled.

We find this contrast in usage of the word ‘game’ elsewhere in the Qur’an as well, and I will quote and discuss two other passages in order to demonstrate this. In Sura 44, we find the following words of God:

We were not playing a pointless game when We created the heavens and earth and everything inbetween; We created them for a true purpose, but most people do not comprehend.

Sura 44:38-39

The key point in the above scripture, it seems to me, is that creation, to God, is not a ‘pointless game’. God’s creation has a purpose, and that purpose will become very evident one day after the dead are raised to face judgement. So the game of life is not a pointless game; it is carefully crafted by God and is moving towards the fulfilment of God’s intended purposes.

Now, another seemingly contrasting use of the word ‘game’ in Sura 47:

…the life of this world is only a game, a pastime, but if you believe and are mindful of God, He will recompense you.

Sura 47:36

In the context of the surrounding verses, the word ‘game’ in Sura 47:36 is being used to describe the insignificance and transient nature of our life as humans on Earth, when compared to the much more serious situation of the afterlife. The day of judgement is a theme highlighted very often in the Qur’an, and I believe it’s important to interpret this sura in light of that fact.

So we can summarise that there are two different meanings of the word ‘game’ in the Qur’an (aside from the animal use). On the one hand, God uses the word ‘game’ to signify the trivial nature of human life on earth when compared to the afterlife, and on the other hand, God warns that His purposes in creation are not trivial. While our lives are just a game, God’s purposes are serious.

In all honesty, when reading these scriptures referring to the word ‘game’ I had to think hard about my own use of the word in my book, God’s Grand Game. The last thing I would ever want to do is offend God by not fully appreciating the gravity of His creative work. My use of the word ‘game’ in my book title is certainly not intended to deny seriousness — it is intended to emphasise God’s sovereignty and our relative pawn-like status, which I believe accords with God’s usage of the word in the examples from the Qur’an we have explored in this article.


What are your thoughts on the usage of the word ‘game’ in the Qur’an? You are welcome to leave a comment below, but please be respectful and polite. Many thanks for reading.

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