I believe in gambling. I believe in doing the hard work of contemplating the possibilities, using your soundest judgment, and then placing your bet. Maybe it’s because when I was a kid, my father took me with him to the race track and taught me how to read THE RACING FORM. Maybe it’s because, as a playwright, I am a member of a profession that offers no guarantees, no promises, no sure things. Maybe it’s because my surname is spelled R-I-S-K. But, whatever the reason, it shapes the spine of awareness that informs my every decision, not one of which do I ever require anyone else to embrace. My Dad, ace handicapper that he was, never told me who to bet on. My trip to the $2.00 window was always a solitary journey.
For some people, a belief in God, religious or otherwise, is a quiet thing. Personal, private, internal, reflective. If not certain. For others, any lack of certainty is simply not allowed. Doubt is not permitted. It is the single aspect of religious fanaticism I almost envy. That trumpet of absolute certainty. And as that trumpet blows, non-believers are blown away. Or converted, or colonized, or dismissed, or pitied, or prayed for, or proselytized over, or punished, or banished. Or simply eliminated. As infidel. As faithless. By decree. By design. By sword’s edge. Sometimes, even by e-mail.
How often have I opened my in-box to find a message of uplift: the story of some hapless runabout, leading the sloppy life, is stricken with cancer and turns to Jesus and finds salvation and remission, simultaneously, and hadn’t I better forward this e-mail on to ten more people in need of inspiration, NOW, because neglecting to do so would only indicate a faltering faith.
Surely it’s understandable that we all want assurances. Assurances that we are right. That ours is the correct choice. Ours, the only viable path. But personally, I’ve never known that kind of sure footing.
Every August, my father had the candy-apple concession at the State Fair. Before we headed out to the track to bet on the horses, we first had to drive out to the fair grounds where we had other handicapping to do. In making the set-ups, Dad counted the cases of candy-apples, the number of vendors, the number of days the fair was open, and the predicted chances of rain on any one of those days… and figure out the odds. It was always a risky proposition. Because the candy-apples were only 75 cents apiece, he couldn’t tolerate more than three days of rain… and make a profit. He did the calculus. He ordered the inventory accordingly. And staked the family fortune to it.
It’s always a gamble. The horses, the weather, the personal choices that make us who we are. I don’t believe there are any assurances. If there were, there’d be no mystery. No struggle. No reason for faith. Life would be a safe bet.
I believe in gambling. How else could I believe in God?
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.