Play is something that we do for the sheer love of the activity. Playing a game, going dancing, enjoying a dinner party with friends, and going hiking can all be wonderful, playful pursuits.
What does God think about our playfulness? Is God playful?
As I was preparing to speak about play at a recent retreat, I googled “play and the Bible” and found one blog post, written in 2007 by a retired science professor, and following that was a Bible Hub source on Zechariah 8:5, which says, “The streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Other inquiries on Google were, What does the Bible say about playing the lottery? and Where does the Bible say that you are not to play instruments? You get the picture.
I found a fair number of articles and TED talks by psychologists and doctors who advocate the benefits of play for people of all ages, but not one of them was from an explicitly Christian perspective.
My search was nowhere near exhaustive, but it makes me wonder if Christians tend to be a little too serious. Are we all trying to be such good Christians that we have forgotten to enjoy God, to delight in his creation, and to have fun with each other?
I decided to look for evidence of play in the two forms of God’s revelation: general revelation (creation) and his special revelation (Scripture).
Evidence from Creation
With the subject of play on my mind, I paid close attention to the way my 21-month old grandson played, like the way he drove a toy train around the track in complete focus and absolute delight. The joys of a toddler with a train! Children are born with a natural desire to explore their environments through play.
Why did God create a world that would routinely delight people with fantastic sunsets, beautiful sunrises, and stunning scenery? Why did he make giraffe’s necks so long? What is the purpose of a peacock’s plume if not beauty? Why did he create such a magnificent variety of lovely butterflies? Why did God give people a sense of humor? And what’s with the platypus or the warthog?
I can only conclude that God wants us to enjoy his creation, to play in it, to laugh. What additional evidence do you see from creation that God is playful?
Evidence from Scripture
I wonder if God got a kick out of Joshua asking for the sun to stand still? Jesus was good friends with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and I would love to have listened in on some of their conversations. They would surely have laughed together and maybe even played a favorite game or two. And what about a donkey speaking up to correct Balaam? I’ll bet God had some fun with that.
We can infer God’s playful heart from the above examples, but I was unsettled by the fact that we never once see an example of Jesus laughing in the New Testament. Surely Jesus laughed. Of course, he had a sense of humor. He had to have laughed, because he created us to laugh.
I searched for incidences of laugh, rejoice, joy, and glad in the Bible, and, after a dizzying look through all of the occurrences, I found only a few in which God speaks of his own joy or rejoicing:
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people… (Isaiah 65:19)
I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41)
…he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Each of these verses is set in the larger prophecy of a new creation, of the time at which God will recreate the heavens and the earth. Could it be that God is waiting to fully express his joy, his playfulness, until the day when he will enjoy unhindered relationship with his redeemed people?
Scripture tells the story of God’s redemptive plan for his people, and it is serious. Jesus entered this messed up world specifically to endure a horrendous death so that we might have the opportunity to spend eternity with him. The centerpiece of Scripture, the weekend of Jesus’s death and resurrection, was intense, dark, and painful It was also joyful.
The heart of God is poignantly described in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). This familiar parable tells of a father who lost the allegiance of his son when his son asked for his inheritance early. The son had a fabulous time for a while, but one day he realized that he had blown not only his money but his life. Meanwhile, the father awaited his return.
God is represented by the father who ran to his returning son and joyfully welcomed him home. The father made immediate plans for a party. They celebrated!
The Joy of the Lord
God rejoices today when we come to him, return to him, or show our love for him, but I don’t think we have any idea what we will experience when God can fully express his joy with us. For all eternity, we will explore the newly created world with God, and he will watch over us, be present with us, and play with us, just like a parent enjoys playing with her toddler.
Scripture gives us hints at the playfulness of God, and I believe that he genuinely wants us to enjoy his creation, to laugh, to play with each other. But the most joyful celebration is yet to come.