LEGO® and the Meaning of Life

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken May 17, 1998

The Window on the World is our weekly opportunity to examine our culture from the standpoint of the Christian faith. Since we want to think and act biblically about all of life, our window on the world is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Tonight I want to talk about LEGO, the popular children’s building toy. The reason I have been thinking about LEGO lately is that I am the father of a five-year old boy, and five-year old boys love to play LEGOs (as do their dads). But by talking about LEGO, I am not trying to be clever. Rather, my conviction is that every human activity has theological implications. Even the toys we play with say something about what it means to live in God’s world.

The first thing to be said about LEGOs is that they show that man is made in the image of God. LEGO has come a long way in the last 25 years. When I was a little boy, there were basically two kinds of LEGOs: squares and rectangles. They were fun to play with, but just about the only thing you could make with them was houses.

Now fast forward to the 1990’s. You name it, LEGO makes it in miniature: diving helmets, computer keyboards, propellers, jackhammers, briefcases, even little bicycles with spokes and handlebars. When I was little, the LEGO Group knew how to make wheels, but they didn’t know how to make them roll. Now the wheels not only roll, some of them even come with shock-absorbers.

All of this gives evidence of the incredible ingenuity of the human mind. The Bible says that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-7). Among many other things, this means that human beings are creative creatures. Almost the first thing the Bible reveals about God is how creative he is. He created the universe in all its vast array. Creativity is part of God’s very nature. Since we are made in his image, we ourselves are creative, even when we are making plastic building sets.

The trouble is that all our creative efforts are tainted by sin, which brings me to my second point: LEGOs prove the depravity of humanity. One reason I say this is because an increasing number of new LEGO sets are violent. They feature witches, pirates, or grotesque aliens. Whenever possible, the manufacturer even adds a skeleton to the set.

Not long ago my son brought me one of his LEGOs and said, “Dad, can you just take this away from me?” When I asked why he said, “I just don’t like the way it looks.” What Josh handed me was a space alien a friend had given him. As I examined it I realized he had a point. The figure did not have a proper face at all. Instead, it was covered with hardware and computer circuitry. There was something repulsive about it because the beauty of the human form God created had been deformed.

The word we sometimes use in our household is “fierce.” We have conversations like this:

“Wow, Dad, look at this! Can we get this LEGO set sometime?”

“Let me see,” I say, “are the characters fierce?”

“Well, yes, but we don’t have to use those pieces.”

Then my son and I discuss whether the LEGOs in question are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (cf. Phil. 4:8). Often they are, but not always.

There is a reason why LEGOs have become more violent in the last several years: violence sells, even among five-year olds. This brings us to another way in which plastic toys demonstrate the depravity of man. LEGOs are made to covet.

If it were possible for any earthly thing to give real satisfaction, LEGOs would be able to give it. They are brightly colored. They come in nice packages. They fit together in an endless variety of ways. They hardly ever break. But LEGOs do not satisfy.

What happens is this. Somebody gives you a new set of LEGO or you save your pennies until you can go to Toys-R-Us and buy one for yourself. Then you take your LEGOs up to your bedroom and dump them out all over the floor. You figure out how they fit together and then you play with them, maybe for days on end.

But eventually you get tired of the LEGO you already have. It always happens. Hauling up the little anchor on the ship and opening and closing the mouth of the shark aren’t quite as much fun as they were when you first got the deep sea diver set. You start wishing you had the “Extreme Team” instead, or maybe a big new set of “Insectoids.”

Eventually, somebody will probably give you more LEGO, but even the joy of that won’t last forever. Soon, another LEGO Club magazine will come in the mail and your LEGO-loving heart will crave something new.

The word the Bible uses for this attitude is coveting. To covet is to want something God has not given you. Not only is coveting a sin (cf. Exod. 20:17), it always leaves us dissatisfied with life. Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

So when my son is discontent with his LEGO, I say something like this:

You know, the reason you are unhappy is because LEGOs cannot satisfy you. I know how much fun they are to play with, but you and I will not have lasting joy until we get to heaven. So don’t get too attached to your LEGOs, and don’t waste time thinking about what you don’t have.

I say the same thing to all of us, myself included. LEGOs are like everything else the world has to offer. If we look for satisfaction in clothes, or in a promotion, or in a better home, or in a sexual relationship, or in some new product, or in anything else we crave, we will be disappointed in the end. Only one thing in all the universe can really satisfy, and that is God himself.

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