Is life a zero-sum game?

Last night at Journey we began a conversation around the dynamics between our fears of not having enough and a biblical story that tells us to trust there is enough. As with most things, this dynamic is fraught with complexity. For example, in some areas, life really is a zero-sum game. (A zero-sum game has fixed limitations, like a pie with only so many pieces, and if one person takes a big piece or two pieces, there will be less for someone else to eat.) Consider your monthly budget. There is a fixed amount of resources you must allocate, and the more you put toward, say, your phone bill, the less you have for dining out.

However, there are also places where life is a non-zero-sum game. Any parent who has had a second child will tell you this. You could not imagine how you could love a second (or third, or fourth) child as much as you do your first, but one minute after holding that baby it finally hits you that love is in endless supply. There is no need for your children to compete for a piece of your love- there is plenty for all of them.

As people called to live in Kingdom economics, we have to push hard against all the zero-sum systems (which include both capitalism and socialism) that often train us to hold onto our “things” too tightly. We have to step outside of that fear long enough to allow the abundance of God’s love and grace to form us into a giving people.


  1. Spot on, Danielle!

    I encourage people to think through questions of ethics with this paraphrase of the command to take up the cross and follow Jesus: “Are we making decisions (/living into a story) where I am striving for my own life, even at the cost of others’? Or am I making decisions (/living into a story) where I am giving up my life so that others might live?”

    The latter, for all the difficulty with which it’s fraught, is the texture of the gospel. And, it has to assume, as you put it here, that life and even death is not a zero sum game. There is a source of abundance, life, etc. who provides for more, is not limited by the pie which we think has to be divided among the people of the world.

  2. this makes sense. ive been thinking how i just need to hold onto hope that things will fall into place. because they always have. so if i just keep trusting, i am going to get a, b, and c. but really what has happened is that i have sort of given up on a, b, and c in the past – and at that point god has opened up doors x, y, and z. and that is usually how it ends up. god has an endless alphabet, too. but i am still stuck on a, b, and c.

  3. Good thoughts, April. I think you are onto something in pointing out that God doesn’t necessarily work “inside the pie” as we often expect or want. Maybe our best hope is to be open to God’s non-zero-sum answers.

  4. Amen Daniel. Thanks for sharing your insight. Great thoughts!

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