Created to Play: Thoughts on Play, Sport, and the Christian Life

Created to Play: Thoughts on Play, Sport, and the Christian Life

Created to Play: Thoughts on Play, Sport, and the Christian Life


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<str<strong>on</strong>g>Created</str<strong>on</strong>g> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>: <str<strong>on</strong>g>Thoughts</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>, <strong>Sport</strong>, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> <strong>Life</strong><br />

K. Erik Thoennes, Ph.D.<br />

Professor of Biblical <strong>and</strong> Theological Studies<br />

Talbot School of Theology/Biola University<br />

Pas<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r, Grace Evangelical Free Church, La Mirada, California<br />


Introducti<strong>on</strong><br />

I had <strong>the</strong> delightful experience this week of watching a dozen 5 year old children get a<br />

tennis less<strong>on</strong>. They were asked by <strong>the</strong>ir instruc<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> simply run forward <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n backward over<br />

a 10 foot span. They did far more than run. Skipping, leaping, bounding, hopping, spinning,<br />

laughing, imitating animals, running with closed eyes, dramatically falling, jumping up again,<br />

<strong>and</strong> purposely crashing in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>on</strong>e ano<strong>the</strong>r, all became part of <strong>the</strong> less<strong>on</strong>. When <strong>the</strong> instruc<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r<br />

armed <strong>the</strong> children with racquets, <strong>the</strong> fun really began. The racquets quickly became guitars,<br />

swords, canes, horses, tromb<strong>on</strong>es, rifles <strong>and</strong> fishing poles. The less<strong>on</strong> c<strong>on</strong>tinually bordered <strong>on</strong><br />

becoming “unproductive” <strong>and</strong> utter chaos because playing was as instinctual <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> children as<br />

breathing. The teacher was successful because he appreciated <strong>the</strong> children’s insatiable need <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

play, <strong>and</strong> allowed for copious amounts of it within his instructi<strong>on</strong>. This week I also read of a<br />

fa<strong>the</strong>r who went <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> jail for 8 years for unintenti<strong>on</strong>ally killing <strong>on</strong>e of his s<strong>on</strong>’s tennis opp<strong>on</strong>ents<br />

after drugging <strong>the</strong> opp<strong>on</strong>ent with medicati<strong>on</strong> that causes drowsiness. The fa<strong>the</strong>r, who was doing<br />

all he could <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> insure <strong>the</strong> athletic “success” of his s<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> daughter, had similarly spiked <strong>the</strong><br />

water bottles of 27 o<strong>the</strong>r rivals over a three year period. 1 The difference between <strong>the</strong> fun loving<br />

instruc<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> winning obsessed fa<strong>the</strong>r could not be more pr<strong>on</strong>ounced. And <strong>the</strong>ir differences<br />

highlight drastically different ways of viewing sport in Western Culture. One has preserved<br />

within sport <strong>the</strong> healthy, joyful expressi<strong>on</strong> of <strong>the</strong> deep human inclinati<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play, <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r has<br />

locked in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> a utilitarian underst<strong>and</strong>ing of sport that squelches play <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> perspective-giving<br />

power of sport. One appreciates <strong>the</strong> actual process of playing a sport; <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r has sadly turned<br />

sport in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an ugly expressi<strong>on</strong> of human pride, insecurity, envy, <strong>and</strong> malice. What will keep us<br />

from turning sport in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> something ugly ra<strong>the</strong>r than beautiful? A robust appreciati<strong>on</strong> of play is<br />

sure <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> help.<br />

Am<strong>on</strong>g <strong>the</strong> many fac<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>rs we could c<strong>on</strong>sider in answering <strong>the</strong> questi<strong>on</strong> of what it means<br />

for <strong>Christian</strong>s <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play <strong>the</strong> way God intends, in this chapter I want <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> think about <strong>the</strong><br />

necessity of keeping play in sport for <strong>the</strong> glory of God. The main questi<strong>on</strong> I want <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> answer is<br />

“how does play help us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> fulfill our intended, created purpose in this beautiful yet tragically<br />

fallen world?” First we will briefly define play. We will <strong>the</strong>n look at play in <strong>the</strong> Bible, <strong>and</strong> we<br />

will <strong>the</strong>n c<strong>on</strong>sider play in light of God’s purpose in creati<strong>on</strong>, humanity, <strong>and</strong> salvati<strong>on</strong> his<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry.<br />

A Pers<strong>on</strong>al Quest<br />

My interest in play is deeply pers<strong>on</strong>al. I write as <strong>on</strong>e who cherishes play <strong>and</strong> as <strong>on</strong>e who<br />

has struggled throughout my life <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> know when my play is godly <strong>and</strong> when it is not. God has<br />


used play in my life, especially within sport, <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> maintain at least some of my sanity <strong>and</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> quell<br />

bitterness <strong>and</strong> anger. I’ve had difficult challenges <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> overcome in my life, <strong>and</strong> as a minister have<br />

sought <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> bear <strong>the</strong> burdens of o<strong>the</strong>rs, <strong>and</strong> I have seen clearly in my life that <strong>the</strong> ability <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play is<br />

<strong>on</strong>e of God’s greatest gifts for coping with <strong>the</strong> difficulty of life in a fallen world. As l<strong>on</strong>g as I<br />

can remember, play, grounded in knowledge that God loved me, has often kept me from despair<br />

<strong>and</strong> resentment. Being able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play, especially in <strong>the</strong> face of hard times, has been am<strong>on</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

greatest blessings of God in my life. So, my interest in play is far more than just academic. And<br />

I hope yours is <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>o.<br />

A Fear<br />

In some ways play defies explanati<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> definiti<strong>on</strong>. As Johan Huzinga observed,<br />

“<strong>the</strong> fun of playing, resists all analysis, all logical interpretati<strong>on</strong>.” 2 <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>’s resistance <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> being<br />

exegeted seems <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be part of its magic. I fear that in studying play, this w<strong>on</strong>derful source of<br />

solace, freedom, <strong>and</strong> perspective may lose its power. As so<strong>on</strong> as you have <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> start explaining a<br />

joke you pr<strong>on</strong>ounce it dead. I suspect that what E.B. White thought about humor is also true of<br />

play when he said: "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but like a frog, <strong>the</strong> thing dies in <strong>the</strong><br />

process <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> innards are disgusting <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> any<strong>on</strong>e but <strong>the</strong> scientific mind." 3 I d<strong>on</strong>’t want <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> kill<br />

play in <strong>the</strong> process of seeking <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> underst<strong>and</strong> it. But underst<strong>and</strong> it we must. Jürgen Moltmann, in<br />

his book <strong>on</strong> a <strong>the</strong>ology of play; warns of this danger when he says, “All <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>ories about play<br />

make <strong>the</strong> point that a game is meaningful within itself but that is must appear useless <strong>and</strong><br />

purposeless from an outside point of view. Just asking for <strong>the</strong> purpose of a game makes a pers<strong>on</strong><br />

a spoilsport.” 4 But I need <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> risk being a spoil sport for at least 5 reas<strong>on</strong>s:<br />

Why We Must Appreciate & Underst<strong>and</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

1) <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is a unique, God-given, universal, human experience.<br />

One of <strong>the</strong> first things a baby does <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> express her humanity is <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play <strong>and</strong> laugh. That<br />

first game of peek-a-boo not <strong>on</strong>ly melts a parent’s heart, it establishes a uniquely human<br />

c<strong>on</strong>necti<strong>on</strong>. <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is basic <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> being human. As Ice says;<br />

Man is <strong>the</strong> <strong>on</strong>ly animal that weeps <strong>and</strong> laughs <strong>and</strong> knows that he weeps <strong>and</strong> laughs, <strong>and</strong><br />

w<strong>on</strong>ders why. He is <strong>the</strong> <strong>on</strong>ly creature that weeps over <strong>the</strong> fact that he weeps, <strong>and</strong> laughs<br />

over <strong>the</strong> fact that he laughs. He is <strong>the</strong> most play seeking, play making <strong>and</strong> play giving<br />

species that has walked <strong>the</strong> earth, ever ready <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> provoke or be provoked with play; even<br />


in <strong>the</strong> midst of fear <strong>and</strong> pain he is capable of inc<strong>on</strong>gruously ameliorating his misery by a<br />

smile, pun, or joke. He is <strong>the</strong> jester in <strong>the</strong> courts of creati<strong>on</strong>. 5<br />

2) <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is a vital part of most meaningful, healthy human relati<strong>on</strong>ships<br />

The ability <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play well with o<strong>the</strong>rs is <strong>on</strong>e of <strong>the</strong> first social expressi<strong>on</strong>s we look for in<br />

human development. Although we tend <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> forget how <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play as we “mature,” it remains a vital<br />

quality in <strong>the</strong> most edifying relati<strong>on</strong>ships.<br />

3) <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> tends <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be seen as ei<strong>the</strong>r frivolous or an end in itself.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>, especially within sport, tends <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be dismissed as meaningless, worldly, <strong>and</strong> c<strong>on</strong>trary<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> sober <strong>Christian</strong> living. On <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r h<strong>and</strong>, <strong>Christian</strong>s can be pulled in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> idolatry of sport<br />

<strong>and</strong> leisure as an end in itself <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be sought at all costs. A biblical underst<strong>and</strong>ing of play as given<br />

by God for his glory <strong>and</strong> our good, but never an end itself, will help coaches, athletes, <strong>and</strong> soccer<br />

moms appreciate play <strong>and</strong> use it as a c<strong>on</strong>duit of glorifying God. Such a re-orientati<strong>on</strong> will give<br />

perspective <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> our lives as intended.<br />

4) <strong>Christian</strong> maturity should develop a godly sense of play<br />

Spirit’s work.<br />

As all o<strong>the</strong>r areas of our lives, play should fall under <strong>the</strong> sanctifying effects of <strong>the</strong> Holy<br />

5) Ministers should help people play well<br />

A <strong>Christian</strong> who takes his role as a minister seriously must be able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> lead people in<br />

godly play. As a pas<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r of a dear flock of growing saints <strong>and</strong> teacher of college students who<br />

generally have a deep hunger <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> know God, I’m c<strong>on</strong>vinced that helping God’s people survive in<br />

a very broken world requires a well developed ability <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play. A minister of <strong>the</strong> gospel must be<br />

able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> cry <strong>and</strong> mourn, laugh <strong>and</strong> play with godly gus<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>, <strong>and</strong> lead o<strong>the</strong>rs in <strong>the</strong>se as well.<br />

Defining <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

So, for at least <strong>the</strong>se 5 reas<strong>on</strong>s we must play well, <strong>and</strong> with underst<strong>and</strong>ing.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is a fun, imaginative, n<strong>on</strong>-compulsory, n<strong>on</strong>-utilitarian activity filled with creative<br />

sp<strong>on</strong>taneity <strong>and</strong> humor, which gives perspective, diversi<strong>on</strong>, <strong>and</strong> rest from necessary work of<br />

daily life. 6 In light of God’s sovereignty <strong>and</strong> faithful love, play for <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> should<br />

dem<strong>on</strong>strate <strong>and</strong> encourage hope, delight, gratitude, <strong>and</strong> celebrati<strong>on</strong>. <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>and</strong> fun go h<strong>and</strong> in<br />

h<strong>and</strong>. One cannot truly play without a sense of good natured humor <strong>and</strong> fun that at times<br />


invokes deep laughter. Fun at <strong>the</strong> heart of play has <strong>the</strong> potential <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>tally absorb <strong>the</strong> player.<br />

However, fun need not be merely frivolous. Although fun is a necessary part of <strong>the</strong> definiti<strong>on</strong> of<br />

play, play is not <strong>the</strong> opposite of seriousness <strong>and</strong> can be very serious indeed. 7 Without a<br />

seriousness about life, play losses its real power <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be an “interlude or intermezzo in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> our daily<br />

lives.” <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> becomes a “complement or accompaniment” <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> serious work of life, 8 <strong>and</strong> “may<br />

rise <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> heights of beauty <strong>and</strong> sublimity that leave seriousness far beneath.” 9<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r aspect of definiti<strong>on</strong> of play is that it is n<strong>on</strong>-compulsory. <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> must express<br />

freedom <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore cannot be imposed. As <strong>the</strong>ologian Fred S<strong>and</strong>ers points out, “The<br />

comm<strong>and</strong>ment “Thou shalt play” is an incoherent <strong>on</strong>e; it is internally c<strong>on</strong>tradic<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry. We have<br />

God’s permissi<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play. We may play.” 10 The natural human inclinati<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be free may be<br />

“suppressed but not completely abolished.” 11 Often in <strong>the</strong> most serious, strict, compulsory<br />

activities play never<strong>the</strong>less seeps out, often unc<strong>on</strong>trollably. The more formal, restrained,<br />

c<strong>on</strong>trolled, <strong>and</strong> m<strong>and</strong>a<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry a situati<strong>on</strong>, <strong>the</strong> more likely a rising need <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play <strong>and</strong> laugh will be felt.<br />

Humans are created <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be free, <strong>and</strong> imposed circumstances often spark playful expressi<strong>on</strong>s of<br />

freedom. Following Sarte <strong>and</strong> Shiller, Moltmann says, “if man knows himself <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be free <strong>and</strong><br />

desires <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> use his freedom, <strong>the</strong>n his activity is play,” 12<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is also fundamentally n<strong>on</strong>-utilitarian. The pragmatic results of play must necessarily<br />

fade <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> background, <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an almost subc<strong>on</strong>scious level, lest <strong>the</strong> pure playfulness of play be lost.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> “does not depend <strong>on</strong> successes <strong>and</strong> accomplishments, although it does not preclude <strong>the</strong>se,” 13<br />

<strong>and</strong> it most certainly has <strong>the</strong> potential of accomplishing much if it is allowed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be more than<br />

merely a means <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an end. The value of play is elusive in that as so<strong>on</strong> as you dwell <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

pragmatics of it, it ceases <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be play. As Moltmann c<strong>on</strong>cludes, “all <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>ories about play make<br />

<strong>the</strong> point that a game is meaningful within itself but that is must appear useless <strong>and</strong> purposeless<br />

from an outside point of view.” 14<br />

True play includes imaginative, creative, sp<strong>on</strong>taneity. To play means entering a world of<br />

make-believe where <strong>the</strong> players act as if <strong>the</strong> agreed up<strong>on</strong> rules, boundaries, <strong>and</strong> goals really<br />

matter <strong>and</strong> exist. The Oxford English Dicti<strong>on</strong>ary includes in it definiti<strong>on</strong> of play; “<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> pretend or<br />

make believe, for sport or amusement.” This has direct implicati<strong>on</strong> for <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> in that <strong>the</strong><br />

exercise of faith <strong>and</strong> hope require a kind of imaginati<strong>on</strong>. While <strong>the</strong> faith of <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> is not<br />

based in a fictitious world of make believe, it does require creatively imagining something God<br />

has promised in order <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> trust in it. Living with faith <strong>and</strong> hope leads <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> kind of joyful<br />

discipleship God requires of his people. Again, Moltmann offers helpful insight when he says<br />

that “without <strong>the</strong> free play of imaginati<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> s<strong>on</strong>gs of praise <strong>the</strong> new obedience deteriorates in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

legalism.” 15<br />


Finally, play provides needed perspective, diversi<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> rest. Like <strong>the</strong> arts, play can<br />

afford “counter-envir<strong>on</strong>ments” 16 that provide freedom from dwelling <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> daily difficulties of<br />

life in a fallen world. “We find pleasure in games <strong>and</strong> enjoy <strong>the</strong> suspended state of playing when<br />

<strong>the</strong> game affords us critical perspectives for change in our o<strong>the</strong>rwise burdensome world.” 17 <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

should not serve <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> anes<strong>the</strong>tize <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> life’s burdens preventing him from engaging<br />

<strong>the</strong>m wholeheartedly, but ra<strong>the</strong>r <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> provide a needed hopeful Sabbath from <strong>the</strong>ir relentless<br />

presence.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>and</strong> Competiti<strong>on</strong><br />

The inherent tensi<strong>on</strong> between competiti<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> play does not mean <strong>the</strong>y are unable <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

co-exist. Competiti<strong>on</strong> can increase <strong>the</strong> potential for true play, <strong>and</strong> play has <strong>the</strong> potential <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

heighten <strong>the</strong> enjoyment of competiti<strong>on</strong>. <strong>Sport</strong> requires a commitment <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an imaginary world<br />

where <strong>the</strong> participants agree <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> act as though <strong>the</strong> made up parameters of space, time, <strong>and</strong> rules of<br />

<strong>the</strong> game really exist <strong>and</strong> matter. This is why we despise a spoil-sport more than a cheat. At<br />

least <strong>the</strong> cheat acts like <strong>the</strong> rules exist, even though he is trying <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> break <strong>the</strong>m. Whereas <strong>the</strong><br />

spoil-sport breaks out of <strong>the</strong> commitment <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> imaginary world of play by scoffing at <strong>the</strong> very<br />

existence of <strong>the</strong> world <strong>the</strong> game requires. Competiti<strong>on</strong> intensifies <strong>the</strong> participants commitment<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> world of make believe where play thrives. <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> keeps <strong>the</strong> competi<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r from losing<br />

perspective <strong>and</strong> seeing <strong>the</strong> final score as more important than playing <strong>the</strong> game.<br />

Serious <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

For a <strong>Christian</strong>, play should never have a trivializing impact <strong>on</strong> life. God <strong>and</strong> life are<br />

not <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be trifled with, <strong>and</strong> play in this sense has no place in <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> life. If play serves as<br />

merely a diversi<strong>on</strong> ra<strong>the</strong>r than giving hopeful perspective it can actually prevent serious<br />

transformative engagement with a world badly in need of redempti<strong>on</strong>. “Games become hopeless<br />

<strong>and</strong> witless if <strong>the</strong>y serve <strong>on</strong>ly <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> help us forget for a while what we cannot change anyway.” 18<br />

Those who most recognize <strong>the</strong> difficulty of life in a fallen world are often able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play <strong>and</strong> laugh<br />


est. Paradoxically, <strong>the</strong>re is a vital c<strong>on</strong>necti<strong>on</strong> between suffering <strong>and</strong> play. As Moltmann<br />

explains; “Games, jokes, caricatures, parodies, imitati<strong>on</strong>s, <strong>and</strong> intenti<strong>on</strong>al misunderst<strong>and</strong>ings<br />

may be regarded as a means of emancipati<strong>on</strong> for those who are burdened <strong>and</strong> heavy-laden.” 19<br />

These moments of emancipati<strong>on</strong> can remind <strong>the</strong> faithful of <strong>the</strong> ultimate liberati<strong>on</strong> coming when<br />

Jesus makes all things new (Rev 21:5).<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> in <strong>the</strong> Bible<br />

The Bible never explicitly addresses play per se, <strong>and</strong> it is safe <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> say that it is a mostly<br />

serious book that seeks <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> pull <strong>the</strong> reader from his sinful God-ignoring sloth <strong>and</strong> distracti<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an<br />

earnest pursuit of his Crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> holy living. But <strong>the</strong> seriousness in <strong>the</strong> Bible often sets<br />

<strong>the</strong> stage for <strong>the</strong> unbridled joy of knowing God that is often expressed in playful exuberance.<br />

Most of <strong>the</strong> elements of our working definiti<strong>on</strong> of play, activity that is fun, free, sp<strong>on</strong>taneous,<br />

creative, n<strong>on</strong>-utilitarian, are found throughout Scripture, especially in resp<strong>on</strong>se <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> liberating,<br />

saving presence of God himself. This seems <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> indicate that this sense of play has its origin in<br />

God himself.<br />

Biblical words translated as a variati<strong>on</strong> of “play” (sachaq, shaa, raqad, (OT), paizo (NT))<br />

can also carry meanings of amusement, merrymaking, celebrati<strong>on</strong>, laughter, sport, delight,<br />

mocking, dancing, frolicking, leaping, <strong>and</strong> skipping about. The most comm<strong>on</strong> kind of play in <strong>the</strong><br />

Bible is <strong>the</strong> playing of instruments. Music, depending <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> kind, can be a profoundly playful<br />

expressi<strong>on</strong>. Humans, animals <strong>and</strong> creati<strong>on</strong> itself are portrayed as having an indelible playfulness<br />

woven in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong>m. To underst<strong>and</strong> play in <strong>the</strong> Bible, as we shall see, we also need <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> appreciate<br />

related c<strong>on</strong>cepts such as laughter, Sabbath, feasts, festivals, childlikeness, dancing, leaping, <strong>and</strong><br />

music. These are impossible <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> do well apart from serious play. So our study of play in <strong>the</strong><br />

Bible will not be limited <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> passages where words translated “play” occur. Ra<strong>the</strong>r, we will focus<br />

<strong>on</strong> examples where main comp<strong>on</strong>ents of play are present. These occur most often when God’s<br />

presence, grace, <strong>and</strong> glory are most evident <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his covenant people.<br />

A <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>ful God<br />

God created <strong>the</strong> universe with amazing order. He also guides our lives in his wise<br />

providence which provides assurance that nothing happens apart from his careful perfect plan<br />

which culminates in his glory <strong>and</strong> our good (Rom 8:28). But in <strong>the</strong> midst of God’s wise ordering<br />

of <strong>the</strong> universe <strong>and</strong> perfectly executing his purposes, he is at <strong>the</strong> same time working with a<br />


creative, playful, extravagance. This is evident in both <strong>the</strong> creati<strong>on</strong> itself <strong>and</strong> God’s interacti<strong>on</strong><br />

with it. The descripti<strong>on</strong> of God’s creative activity in Ps 104, for instance, gives us a picture of<br />

not <strong>on</strong>ly God’s awesome power <strong>and</strong> wisdom, but his abundant playfulness in his creative work--<br />

springs gushing, birds singing from am<strong>on</strong>g <strong>the</strong> branches, wine gladdening <strong>the</strong> heart, trees<br />

watered abundantly, all point <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> a fabulous display of lavish divine activity. In describing <strong>the</strong><br />

immense <strong>and</strong> powerful sea, <strong>the</strong> greatest sea creature of all, Leviathan, is said <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> have been<br />

formed by God <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> “play in it” (Ps 104:26). This verse may even be implying that it is God who<br />

is at play with Leviathan in <strong>the</strong> seas he has created. 20 This seems <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be <strong>the</strong> same idea we find in<br />

Job 41:5 where, <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> put Job in his place, God ir<strong>on</strong>ically asks him if he will play with <strong>the</strong> great<br />

Leviathan. “Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him <strong>on</strong> a leash for your girls?<br />

The point is, Job is obviously incapable of doing something God certainly can. The very<br />

creature that strikes terror in humans has a <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>y-like quality from God’s perspective. Also in Job,<br />

<strong>the</strong> mountains God made are portrayed as not <strong>on</strong>ly yielding food for Behemoth, but also as a<br />

place where “all <strong>the</strong> wild beasts play” (Job 40:20). God’s creative provisi<strong>on</strong> includes<br />

playgrounds for his inherently playful creatures.<br />

The overwhelming artistic variety we see in creati<strong>on</strong> indicates that <strong>the</strong>re is not <strong>on</strong>ly an<br />

intelligent designer behind it but also a playful artist. The sheer variety of tastes, colors, sounds,<br />

textures, <strong>and</strong> shapes in creati<strong>on</strong> indicate anything but pure utilitarian motivati<strong>on</strong> by its crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r.<br />

God is both skillful architect <strong>and</strong> creative artist. God does nothing based in need (Acts 17:24-25;<br />

Ps 50:9-12; Job 4:11), so creati<strong>on</strong>, like play, is “meaningful but not necessary.” 21 In creating <strong>and</strong><br />

sustaining everything, <strong>and</strong> in accomplishing redempti<strong>on</strong>, God’s pleasure <strong>and</strong> glory, are his<br />

primary motives (Isa 43:7; Matt 10:26; Lk 11:21; Eph 1: 5, 9, 11-12). Creati<strong>on</strong> is God at play, “a<br />

play of his groundless <strong>and</strong> inscrutable wisdom. It is <strong>the</strong> real in which God displays his glory.” 22<br />

Creati<strong>on</strong>, <strong>and</strong> life itself, become a source of pleasure <strong>and</strong> delight for those who delight in <strong>the</strong><br />

Crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> work of his h<strong>and</strong>s.<br />

We get glimpses of <strong>the</strong> playfulness of God in Christ in his teaching which often included<br />

verbal sparring with his opp<strong>on</strong>ents <strong>and</strong> at times his own disciples. Jesus’ parables frequently<br />

c<strong>on</strong>tain humorous exaggerati<strong>on</strong>, (<strong>the</strong> hypocrites beam in his eye of Matt 7:5), word play (Peter’s<br />

new nickname, Matt 16:18), <strong>and</strong> ir<strong>on</strong>y (asking whe<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong> people who went <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> see John <strong>the</strong><br />

Baptist had g<strong>on</strong>e out <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> see some<strong>on</strong>e “in soft clothing,” Matt 112:8).<br />


<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> Coming Kingdom<br />

The most stirring images of play in <strong>the</strong> Bible occur in attempts <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> express <strong>the</strong> joy <strong>and</strong><br />

freedom experienced in <strong>the</strong> coming Kingdom of God. The most vivid of <strong>the</strong>se images is<br />

Zechariah 8:5: “And <strong>the</strong> streets of <strong>the</strong> city shall be full of boys <strong>and</strong> girls playing in its streets.<br />

God gives his people a beautiful scene of <strong>the</strong> escha<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>n <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> look forward <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>; children playing with<br />

uninhibited, unhindered, freedom. We get a similar picture of <strong>the</strong> freedom <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be found in <strong>the</strong><br />

heavenly city in Isaiah 11:8-9; “The nursing child shall play over <strong>the</strong> hole of <strong>the</strong> cobra, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

weaned child shall put his h<strong>and</strong> <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy<br />

mountain; for <strong>the</strong> earth shall be full of <strong>the</strong> knowledge of <strong>the</strong> LORD as <strong>the</strong> waters cover <strong>the</strong> sea.”<br />

Fearless childlike play, no l<strong>on</strong>ger inhibited by <strong>the</strong> effects of sin <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> curse is a key metaphor<br />

of Christ’s Kingdom. Similar images of playful celebrati<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> “merrymaking” abound in o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

prophetic glimpses of what <strong>the</strong> New Jerusalem brings (cf. Jer 30:18–19; 31:4 , 13–14).<br />

One of <strong>the</strong> tenderest pictures of God’s deep care for his people is found in his promise of<br />

a res<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>red Jerusalem. He likens it <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> care of a compassi<strong>on</strong>ate mo<strong>the</strong>r for a little baby which<br />

will provide <strong>the</strong> care a little baby receives from her compassi<strong>on</strong>ate mo<strong>the</strong>r. Speaking of <strong>the</strong><br />

fulfilled covenant, Yahweh says of Jerusalem, "Behold, I will extend peace <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> her like a river,<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> glory of <strong>the</strong> nati<strong>on</strong>s like an overflowing stream; <strong>and</strong> you shall nurse, you shall be carried<br />

up<strong>on</strong> her hip, <strong>and</strong> bounced up<strong>on</strong> her knees” (Isa 66:12). In <strong>the</strong> res<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>rati<strong>on</strong>, God provides <strong>the</strong><br />

security <strong>and</strong> freedom a child experiences while playfully d<strong>and</strong>led <strong>on</strong> her mo<strong>the</strong>r’s knee.<br />

These images call <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> mind Jesus holding up a child as <strong>the</strong> pro<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>type of <strong>the</strong> kind of pers<strong>on</strong><br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> whom bel<strong>on</strong>gs <strong>the</strong> Kingdom of God (Matt 19:14). Jesus calls his followers <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> an attitude of<br />

childlike dependence <strong>and</strong> trust in God, but this kind of trust invariably leads <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> childlike play as<br />

we see God’s fulfilled covenant promises.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>ful, sp<strong>on</strong>taneous, exuberance sparked by God’s presence <strong>and</strong> blessing is vividly<br />

displayed in David’s joyful worship when <strong>the</strong> Ark of <strong>the</strong> Covenant was returned from <strong>the</strong><br />

Philistines. David looks downright childlike as he celebrates <strong>the</strong> symbol of God’s abiding<br />

presence up<strong>on</strong> re-entering Jerusalem.<br />

“And David <strong>and</strong> all <strong>the</strong> house of Israel were making merry before <strong>the</strong> LORD, with s<strong>on</strong>gs <strong>and</strong><br />

lyres <strong>and</strong> harps <strong>and</strong> tambourines <strong>and</strong> castanets <strong>and</strong> cymbals” (2 Sam 6:5).<br />

“And David danced before <strong>the</strong> LORD with all his might . . . 2 Sam 6:14).<br />


His playful uninhibited exuberance was so expressive, it offended <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his wife.<br />

“And David returned <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> bless his household. But Michal <strong>the</strong> daughter of Saul came out<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> meet David <strong>and</strong> said, "How <strong>the</strong> king of Israel h<strong>on</strong>ored himself <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>day, uncovering<br />

himself <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>day before <strong>the</strong> eyes of his servants' female servants, as <strong>on</strong>e of <strong>the</strong> vulgar<br />

fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!" As <strong>the</strong> ark of <strong>the</strong> LORD came in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> city of<br />

David, Michal <strong>the</strong> daughter of Saul looked out of <strong>the</strong> window <strong>and</strong> saw King David<br />

leaping <strong>and</strong> dancing before <strong>the</strong> LORD, <strong>and</strong> she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam 6:20).<br />

David is unapologetic due <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his deep gratitude for God’s gracious favor.<br />

"And David said <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> Michal, "It was before <strong>the</strong> LORD, who chose me above your fa<strong>the</strong>r<br />

<strong>and</strong> above all his house, <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> appoint me as prince over Israel, <strong>the</strong> people of <strong>the</strong> LORD- <strong>and</strong><br />

I will make merry before <strong>the</strong> LORD. I will make myself yet more c<strong>on</strong>temptible than this,<br />

<strong>and</strong> I will be abased in your eyes. But by <strong>the</strong> female servants of whom you have spoken,<br />

by <strong>the</strong>m I shall be held in h<strong>on</strong>or." (2 Sam 6:21-22).<br />

Michal was unable <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> appreciate <strong>the</strong> magnitude of God’s grace <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore had no category for<br />

David’s joyful resp<strong>on</strong>se. Her highest value seemed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be royal dignity. For David, God’s glory<br />

returning <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his people far surpassed <strong>the</strong> need <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> maintain royal decorum. 23 David’s celebrati<strong>on</strong><br />

epi<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>mizes key elements of our definiti<strong>on</strong> of play. His enthusiastic, exuberant, dancing <strong>and</strong><br />

leaping was, free, creative, fun, n<strong>on</strong>-utilitarian <strong>and</strong> dem<strong>on</strong>strated <strong>and</strong> encouraged hope, delight,<br />

gratitude, <strong>and</strong> celebrati<strong>on</strong>. Michal “despised him for <strong>the</strong> very qualities that made him great,<br />

namely devoti<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> Lord <strong>and</strong> sp<strong>on</strong>taneity in worship.” 24 Her failure <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> grasp God’s grace,<br />

<strong>and</strong> c<strong>on</strong>sequently playful exuberance resulted in barrenness for <strong>the</strong> remainder of her life (2 Sam<br />

6:23). Perhaps Michal’s bareness gives us a warning about <strong>the</strong> poverty of a life bereft of<br />

exuberant childlike freedom in worship.<br />

David’s playful dancing <strong>and</strong> leaping mirrors o<strong>the</strong>r resp<strong>on</strong>ses of <strong>the</strong> joy over God’s<br />

res<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ring, power <strong>and</strong> presence.<br />

• “Singers <strong>and</strong> dancers alike say, "All my springs are in you."” (Ps 87:7)<br />

• “The mountains skipped like rams, <strong>the</strong> hills like lambs.” (Ps 114:4)<br />

• “Again I will build you, <strong>and</strong> you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn<br />

yourself with tambourines <strong>and</strong> shall go forth in <strong>the</strong> dance of <strong>the</strong> merrymakers (or “<strong>the</strong><br />

chorus of <strong>the</strong> playful,” (YLT)) (Jer 31:4)<br />

•<br />

“ Then shall <strong>the</strong> young women rejoice in <strong>the</strong> dance, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> young men <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> old shall<br />

be merry. I will turn <strong>the</strong>ir mourning in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> joy; I will comfort <strong>the</strong>m, <strong>and</strong> give <strong>the</strong>m gladness<br />

for sorrow.” (Jer 31:13)<br />

• “. . . <strong>the</strong>n shall <strong>the</strong> lame man leap like a deer, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ngue of <strong>the</strong> mute sing for joy. For<br />

waters break forth in <strong>the</strong> wilderness, <strong>and</strong> streams in <strong>the</strong> desert;” (Isa 35:6)<br />


• “But for you who fear my name, <strong>the</strong> sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its<br />

wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from <strong>the</strong> stall.” (Mal 4:2)<br />

• “For behold, when <strong>the</strong> sound of your greeting came <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> my ears, <strong>the</strong> baby in my womb<br />

leaped for joy.” (Lk 1:44)<br />

• “Rejoice in that day, <strong>and</strong> leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir fa<strong>the</strong>rs did <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> prophets.” (Lk 6:23)<br />

• “And leaping up he s<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>od <strong>and</strong> began <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> walk, <strong>and</strong> entered <strong>the</strong> temple with <strong>the</strong>m, walking<br />

<strong>and</strong> leaping <strong>and</strong> praising God.” (Acts 3:8)<br />

One would be hard pressed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> think of a less practical, less c<strong>on</strong>strained, less m<strong>and</strong>a<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry, less<br />

boring activity than leaping <strong>and</strong> dancing. This is <strong>the</strong> exuberant resp<strong>on</strong>se of pard<strong>on</strong>ed pris<strong>on</strong>ers.<br />

Those who fail <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> underst<strong>and</strong> God’s as<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>unding grace have no category for this sort of<br />

impractical unrestrained worship. The woman in Luke 7 dismissed pharisaical decorum <strong>and</strong><br />

kissed Jesus’ feet <strong>and</strong> used her tears <strong>and</strong> hair <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> anoint his feet with oil. She st<strong>and</strong>s as a vivid <strong>and</strong><br />

powerful picture of a sinner who unders<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>od grace (Luke 7:36-50). This same dispositi<strong>on</strong> was<br />

displayed by <strong>the</strong> woman who “wasted” expensive ointment anointing Jesus. She did a “beautiful<br />

thing” <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> Jesus in preparati<strong>on</strong> for his burial <strong>and</strong> realized that unrestrained appreciati<strong>on</strong> was<br />

warranted. His disciples failed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> have her perspective at this moment, but most of <strong>the</strong>m would<br />

<strong>on</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> author of life left an empty <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>mb behind.<br />

Sabbath<br />

Bey<strong>on</strong>d explicit play oriented passages, Sabbath observance in <strong>the</strong> Bible helps us<br />

underst<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> value of play. Sabbath-keeping forced God’s people <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> disengage from providing<br />

for <strong>the</strong>mselves <strong>and</strong> remember <strong>the</strong> ultimate source of <strong>the</strong>ir daily bread. The Crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r <strong>and</strong> Sustainer<br />

built a m<strong>and</strong>a<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry rest in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> each week <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> get his people <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> put <strong>the</strong>ir efforts at survival in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

perspective. Even more radically, Yahweh institutes <strong>the</strong> Sabbath when his people are in <strong>the</strong><br />

wilderness where failure <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> fend for yourself could cost you your life. Rest in God’s sufficiency<br />

<strong>and</strong> power wars against an anthropocentric view of life <strong>and</strong> dem<strong>and</strong>s we surrender any vestige of<br />

self-sufficiency. Fred S<strong>and</strong>ers, offers excellent insight al<strong>on</strong>g <strong>the</strong>se lines.<br />

Productive work is an in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>xicating thing. The temptati<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> base <strong>on</strong>e’s identity <strong>and</strong><br />

esteem <strong>on</strong> what <strong>on</strong>e produces is all but irresistible. . . The comm<strong>and</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> rest <strong>and</strong><br />

remember God is a challenge <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> human productivity. It arrests <strong>and</strong> relativizes even <strong>the</strong><br />

most dem<strong>and</strong>ing <strong>and</strong> c<strong>on</strong>suming work, for anything which can be interrupted is not<br />

ultimate in importance. Self-important people cannot <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>lerate this undercutting of <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

significance. . . . The fundamental realizati<strong>on</strong> that “it is God with whom I have <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> do”<br />

(Calvin) is what allows <strong>the</strong> play ethic <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be liberating. 25<br />


S<strong>and</strong>ers leans <strong>on</strong> Barth’s discussi<strong>on</strong> of creati<strong>on</strong> in his Dogmatics. Barth’s treatment of Sabbath<br />

in light of God’s sovereign work is worth quoting at length due <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> its import for our discussi<strong>on</strong><br />

<strong>on</strong> play:<br />

Outward <strong>and</strong> inward work will be d<strong>on</strong>e with more ra<strong>the</strong>r than less seriousness <strong>on</strong>ce a man<br />

realizes that what he desires <strong>and</strong> does <strong>and</strong> achieves <strong>the</strong>reby, when measured by <strong>the</strong> work<br />

of God which it may attest, cannot be anything but play, i.e., a childlike imitati<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong><br />

reflecti<strong>on</strong> of <strong>the</strong> fa<strong>the</strong>rly acti<strong>on</strong> of God which as such is true <strong>and</strong> proper acti<strong>on</strong>. When<br />

children play properly, of course, <strong>the</strong>y do so with supreme seriousness <strong>and</strong> devoti<strong>on</strong>.<br />

Even in play, if a man does not really play properly he is a spoil-sport. We are<br />

summ<strong>on</strong>ed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play properly. But we must not imagine that what we desire <strong>and</strong> are able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

do is more than play. Human work would certainly not be worse d<strong>on</strong>e, but both<br />

individually <strong>and</strong> as a whole it would be d<strong>on</strong>e much better, if it were d<strong>on</strong>e with <strong>the</strong><br />

frightful seriousness which is so often bes<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>wed up<strong>on</strong> it just because fundamentally we<br />

do not think that we have <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> take God seriously, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore we must take ourselves <strong>the</strong><br />

more terribly seriously, this usually being <strong>the</strong> surest way <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> invoke <strong>the</strong> spirit of idleness<br />

<strong>and</strong> sloth by way of compensati<strong>on</strong>. We may c<strong>on</strong>fidently affirm that not by a l<strong>on</strong>g chalk<br />

can work be d<strong>on</strong>e with genuine earnestness in <strong>the</strong>se circumstances—<strong>and</strong> for this <strong>the</strong><br />

simple reas<strong>on</strong> that we will not admit that in it, even at best, we cannot be more than<br />

children engaged in serious <strong>and</strong> true play. No type of work is exempt from this rule. It<br />

may be seen clearly in <strong>the</strong> work of <strong>the</strong> artist, since <strong>the</strong>re it bel<strong>on</strong>gs <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> very heart of <strong>the</strong><br />

matter. Yet we might just as well be prepared frankly <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> admit its validity in scientific<br />

work as well. 26<br />

Barth beautifully attacks any hint of human-centeredness or self-sufficiency. Lack of play, rest,<br />

<strong>and</strong> leisure can be a sign of profound hubris.<br />

Similarly, Isaiah rebukes Israel <strong>and</strong> seeks <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> free <strong>the</strong>m from thinking <strong>the</strong>ir efforts were<br />

<strong>the</strong> ultimate source of <strong>the</strong>ir protecti<strong>on</strong>. “For I, <strong>the</strong> LORD your God, hold your right h<strong>and</strong>; it is I<br />

who say <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> you, "Fear not, I am <strong>the</strong> <strong>on</strong>e who helps you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of<br />

Israel! I am <strong>the</strong> <strong>on</strong>e who helps you, declares <strong>the</strong> LORD; your Redeemer is <strong>the</strong> Holy One of<br />

Israel.” (Isa 41:13-14). Jesus’ also seeks <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> quell <strong>the</strong> pride that leads <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> anxiety about our<br />

provisi<strong>on</strong> in his Serm<strong>on</strong> <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> Mount.<br />

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will<br />

drink, nor about your body, what you will put <strong>on</strong>. Is not life more than food, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> body<br />

more than clothing? Look at <strong>the</strong> birds of <strong>the</strong> air: <strong>the</strong>y nei<strong>the</strong>r sow nor reap nor ga<strong>the</strong>r in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

barns, <strong>and</strong> yet your heavenly Fa<strong>the</strong>r feeds <strong>the</strong>m. Are you not of more value than <strong>the</strong>y?<br />

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his span of life? And why<br />

are you anxious about clothing? C<strong>on</strong>sider <strong>the</strong> lilies of <strong>the</strong> field, how <strong>the</strong>y grow: <strong>the</strong>y<br />

nei<strong>the</strong>r <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>il nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solom<strong>on</strong> in all his glory was not arrayed like<br />

<strong>on</strong>e of <strong>the</strong>se. But if God so clo<strong>the</strong>s <strong>the</strong> grass of <strong>the</strong> field, which <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>day is alive <strong>and</strong><br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>morrow is thrown in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> oven, will he not much more clo<strong>the</strong> you, O you of little<br />

faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?'<br />

or 'What shall we wear?' For <strong>the</strong> Gentiles seek after all <strong>the</strong>se things, <strong>and</strong> your heavenly<br />

Fa<strong>the</strong>r knows that you need <strong>the</strong>m all. But seek first <strong>the</strong> kingdom of God <strong>and</strong> his<br />

righteousness, <strong>and</strong> all <strong>the</strong>se things will be added <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> you. (Matt 6:25-33)<br />


In a sense, Jesus is saying, how dare you worry? Who do you think you are, <strong>the</strong> sovereign God?<br />

James corrects a heightened view of human planning by comparing it <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> God’s comprehensive<br />

sovereignty.<br />

Come now, you who say, "Today or <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>morrow we will go in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> such <strong>and</strong> such a <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>wn <strong>and</strong><br />

spend a year <strong>the</strong>re <strong>and</strong> trade <strong>and</strong> make a profit"- yet you do not know what <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>morrow will<br />

bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n<br />

vanishes. Instead you ought <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> say, "If <strong>the</strong> Lord wills, we will live <strong>and</strong> do this or that."<br />

As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows <strong>the</strong><br />

right thing <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> do <strong>and</strong> fails <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> do it, for him it is sin. (Jas 4:13-17)<br />

N<strong>on</strong>e of this is intended <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> undercut human effort, attentiveness, passi<strong>on</strong>, diligence, or<br />

resp<strong>on</strong>sibility. Isaiah, Jesus, James, <strong>and</strong> Karl Barth for that matter, all worked extremely hard<br />

<strong>and</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ok <strong>the</strong>ir human decisi<strong>on</strong>s <strong>and</strong> activity very seriously. However, human activity must<br />

always be subservient <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> overarching plan <strong>and</strong> power of God. While best selling self-help<br />

books are telling us that <strong>the</strong> universe will rearrange itself <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> give you whatever you want if you<br />

exercise <strong>the</strong> power of positive thoughts, God c<strong>on</strong>demns this blasphemous lie <strong>and</strong> frees us from<br />

<strong>the</strong> impossible role of playing God. Ra<strong>the</strong>r, he calls us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> freedom <strong>and</strong> Sabbath rest that lead<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> childlike dependence, trust, <strong>and</strong> play. Again, Barth’s words are apt:<br />

Hopeful <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

Man has nei<strong>the</strong>r <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> repeat, emulate, nor augment this work of God. He has simply <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

attest <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> it. . . [Man] has not been commissi<strong>on</strong>ed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> exercise <strong>the</strong> initiating <strong>and</strong><br />

c<strong>on</strong>summating functi<strong>on</strong> of God. He can <strong>and</strong> should leave this wholly <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> God. The<br />

dem<strong>and</strong>ed rest from all his labour is that he should do his work with diligence but also<br />

with <strong>the</strong> recollecti<strong>on</strong> that God is Lord, Master, Provider, Warrior, Vic<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r, Author <strong>and</strong><br />

Finisher, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore with <strong>the</strong> relief <strong>and</strong> relaxati<strong>on</strong> which spring from this recogniti<strong>on</strong>. .<br />

. Rest is temporary release <strong>and</strong> liberati<strong>on</strong> from some o<strong>the</strong>r activity. This o<strong>the</strong>r activity<br />

may also be work. In most cases it will be. But it will be work undertaken voluntarily<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore with particular joy. It will be work which dem<strong>and</strong>s very different interests<br />

<strong>and</strong> exerti<strong>on</strong>s. To this extent it will be re-creative, refreshing <strong>and</strong> beneficial, like a<br />

sec<strong>on</strong>dary play supporting <strong>the</strong> main <strong>on</strong>e enacted <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> decisive stage. Obviously, by<br />

way of games of sport, this may easily pass over in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play in <strong>the</strong> stricter sense. 27<br />

How can we ever justify playing when poverty kills milli<strong>on</strong>s of children every year <strong>and</strong><br />

wars rage around <strong>the</strong> globe? Without sober acknowledgment of sin, play can become a mere<br />

distracti<strong>on</strong> or obsessi<strong>on</strong>. But <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> can play with reckless ab<strong>and</strong><strong>on</strong> because all is certain<br />

for God. Because of God’s sovereign power <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> bring a w<strong>on</strong>derful c<strong>on</strong>clusi<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> all of <strong>the</strong><br />

ambiguities <strong>and</strong> suffering in life, <strong>the</strong> <strong>Christian</strong> has hope <strong>and</strong> can truly play. A clear definitive<br />

result in a game is part of <strong>the</strong>ir appeal. Our newspapers reveal never ending political, nati<strong>on</strong>al,<br />

internati<strong>on</strong>al, interpers<strong>on</strong>al, <strong>and</strong> religious c<strong>on</strong>flicts. It is no w<strong>on</strong>der many readers turn first <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong><br />


sports secti<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> discover yesterday’s results. While <strong>the</strong> clear resoluti<strong>on</strong> sport offers is part of its<br />

draw, ir<strong>on</strong>ically, interest in play <strong>and</strong> sport rests largely <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> uncertainty of <strong>the</strong> final outcome.<br />

We lose interest in games if <strong>the</strong> outcome is assured before <strong>the</strong> game starts. This is why parity in<br />

sports leagues is vital <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> maintaining interest. There must be a good measure of uncertainty as <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

what will transpire <strong>and</strong> what <strong>the</strong> end result will be. The more tensi<strong>on</strong> created by this uncertainty,<br />

<strong>the</strong> more engaged we become with <strong>the</strong> game. This creative sp<strong>on</strong>taneous uncertainty is central <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

<strong>the</strong> definiti<strong>on</strong> of play <strong>and</strong> at <strong>the</strong> heart of <strong>the</strong> intrigue of sport. I believe this mirrors <strong>the</strong> tensi<strong>on</strong> at<br />

<strong>the</strong> heart of <strong>the</strong> drama of human his<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry. The sp<strong>on</strong>taneous uncertainty inherent in play with an<br />

eventual ending reflects <strong>the</strong> unfolding s<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry of our lives. Like games, our lives are filled with<br />

smaller uncertainties which lead <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>on</strong>e final result also fraught with uncertainty. <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> can equip<br />

a pers<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> deal with uncertainties <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> way <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> c<strong>on</strong>clusi<strong>on</strong>. For a <strong>Christian</strong>, <strong>the</strong> promised<br />

good c<strong>on</strong>clusi<strong>on</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> difficulty of life in a fallen world brings a deep enjoyment of play as is<br />

dramatizes a life that ends well.<br />

The Hope of The Cross<br />

God’s redeeming power that evokes play <strong>and</strong> laughter from believers is seen most<br />

powerfully in <strong>the</strong> “folly” of <strong>the</strong> redemptive work of Christ (1 Cor 1-2). The juxtaposing ir<strong>on</strong>ies<br />

in his life are many; <strong>the</strong> glorious Crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r becomes a baby; <strong>the</strong> Crea<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>r of all that is beautiful has<br />

nothing in his appearance <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> attract us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> him; <strong>the</strong> Source of all joy becomes <strong>the</strong> Man of Sorrows;<br />

<strong>the</strong> cursed <strong>and</strong> crucified Holy One sustaining <strong>the</strong> universe as he rides a d<strong>on</strong>key <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his triumphal<br />

entry <strong>and</strong> who will return as a wrathful--Lamb. His life c<strong>on</strong>jures images of D<strong>on</strong> Quixote chasing<br />

windmills <strong>and</strong> dreaming <strong>the</strong> impossible dream, except Jesus doesn’t die at <strong>the</strong> end--<strong>and</strong> all our<br />

hopes <strong>and</strong> dreams come true in Him.<br />

The gospel leads <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play, for it expresses our ability <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> transcend <strong>the</strong> brokenness of our<br />

world. We momentarily see <strong>the</strong> human predicament as not <strong>on</strong>ly daunting but fixable. We should<br />

never get used <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> relentless difficulty of our cursed cosmos. “The creati<strong>on</strong> was subjected <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that <strong>the</strong> creati<strong>on</strong> itself will be<br />

set free from its b<strong>on</strong>dage <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> decay <strong>and</strong> obtain <strong>the</strong> freedom of <strong>the</strong> glory of <strong>the</strong> children of God.<br />

For we know that <strong>the</strong> whole creati<strong>on</strong> has been groaning <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ge<strong>the</strong>r in <strong>the</strong> pains of childbirth until<br />

now.” (Rom 8:20-22). The <strong>Christian</strong> world view recognizes <strong>the</strong> relentless difficulty of life in our<br />

dysfuncti<strong>on</strong>al world, but also that it is being redeemed by <strong>the</strong> <strong>on</strong>e who created, <strong>and</strong> cursed it. So,<br />

we have hope, <strong>and</strong> play, in <strong>the</strong> midst of our brokenness. “He suffered that we may laugh again. .<br />

. In <strong>the</strong> cross of Christ God is taking man dead-seriously so that he may open up for him <strong>the</strong><br />

happy freedom of Easter.” 28 Without hope, play becomes merely a diversi<strong>on</strong> from <strong>the</strong> life’s<br />


troubles ra<strong>the</strong>r than a hopeful expressi<strong>on</strong> of <strong>the</strong> freedom <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> come in <strong>the</strong> Escha<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>n. When it is an<br />

end in itself, play can become a frivolous idol that keeps us from dealing with <strong>the</strong> human<br />

predicament. When grounded in <strong>the</strong> hope of <strong>the</strong> Gospel, play can become <strong>on</strong>e of life’s greatest<br />

<strong>and</strong> most encouraging pleasures.<br />

Heaven: The <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> of Eternity<br />

<strong>Christian</strong> play is <strong>the</strong> resp<strong>on</strong>se of those who know God as <strong>the</strong>ir fa<strong>the</strong>r, <strong>and</strong> know he has<br />

overcome <strong>the</strong> world, <strong>and</strong> that he loves <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> abundantly share <strong>the</strong> spoils of this vic<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry with his<br />

children. God’s saving power leads <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> great joy am<strong>on</strong>g God’s people. “Then our mouth was<br />

filled with laughter, <strong>and</strong> our <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ngue with shouts of joy; <strong>the</strong>n <strong>the</strong>y said am<strong>on</strong>g <strong>the</strong> nati<strong>on</strong>s, ‘The<br />

LORD has d<strong>on</strong>e great things for <strong>the</strong>m.’” (Ps 126:2). This joy is possible even when life is brutal.<br />

"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you who weep<br />

now, for you shall laugh.” (Lk 6:21). Empty s<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>machs <strong>and</strong> tears are not <strong>the</strong> whole s<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry. God<br />

will bring ultimate healing <strong>on</strong>e day.<br />

There are a few times in life when our souls <strong>and</strong> bodies are overtaken by our hearts. In<br />

sexual expressi<strong>on</strong>, sobbing, unc<strong>on</strong>trollable laughter, or in <strong>the</strong> freedom of childlike play, we get a<br />

glimpse of what it will be like <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be d<strong>on</strong>e with this sin sick world, <strong>and</strong> in <strong>the</strong> presence of God--<br />

lost in w<strong>on</strong>der love <strong>and</strong> praise. 29 As Douglas J<strong>on</strong>es helpfully (<strong>and</strong> playfully) states, “[S]cripture<br />

commends self-c<strong>on</strong>trol but not forever, not for <strong>the</strong> escha<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>logically mature. Self-c<strong>on</strong>trol is more<br />

like training wheels for <strong>the</strong> escha<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>logically challenged. The whole directi<strong>on</strong> of <strong>the</strong> New<br />

Covenant moves away from external c<strong>on</strong>trols <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ward <strong>the</strong> law-made-instincts <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> heart (Jer<br />

31:33-34), a move away from training wheels <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> instinctive wheelies.” 30<br />

The paradoxical nature of Jesus’ Kingdom teaching dem<strong>and</strong>s an imaginative sense of<br />

w<strong>on</strong>der <strong>and</strong> play. The loss of w<strong>on</strong>der is often mistaken for <strong>Christian</strong> maturity. As C<strong>on</strong>rad Hyers<br />

rightly observed, “[T]rue maturity involves a resurrecti<strong>on</strong> of childlikeness.” 31 As Job’s<br />

underst<strong>and</strong>ing of God <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ok off <strong>and</strong> his faith matured, so did his w<strong>on</strong>der—“Therefore I have<br />

uttered what I did not underst<strong>and</strong>, things <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>o w<strong>on</strong>derful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 4:6).<br />

<strong>Christian</strong> play should see suffering for what it is, but always through <strong>the</strong> eyes of cross-centered<br />

hope. Following Jesus turns pain in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> glory, c<strong>on</strong>fusi<strong>on</strong> in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> w<strong>on</strong>der, sin in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> redempti<strong>on</strong>, Good<br />

Friday in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> Easter Sunday morning.<br />


C<strong>on</strong>clusi<strong>on</strong>s<br />

So, what is a <strong>Christian</strong> underst<strong>and</strong>ing of play--how should a <strong>Christian</strong> play? Well,<br />

fundamentally we should play <strong>the</strong> way we do everything else--for <strong>the</strong> glory of God <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> good<br />

of o<strong>the</strong>rs. God tells us that every part of human experience has <strong>the</strong> potential <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> be glorifying, or<br />

dish<strong>on</strong>oring <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> him,<br />

“So, whe<strong>the</strong>r you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31).<br />

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in <strong>the</strong> name of <strong>the</strong> Lord Jesus, giving<br />

thanks <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> God <strong>the</strong> Fa<strong>the</strong>r through him” (Col 3:17).<br />

So, if I can eat a peach or drink a root beer float <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>the</strong> glory of God, I must be able <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g><br />

play <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> his glory as well. When we play as hopeful forgiven children of <strong>the</strong> King of Kings, that<br />

hopeful play glorifies God <strong>and</strong> gives a glimpse of things <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> come.<br />

<str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> is not a major emphasis in <strong>the</strong> Bible <strong>and</strong> it can be unhelpful <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> encourage play in a<br />

culture that so often <strong>and</strong> easily trivializes God <strong>and</strong> life itself. Yet, I do believe that a sense of<br />

play is necessary for a healthy <strong>Christian</strong> perspective <strong>on</strong> life. The failure <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> appreciate play in <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>Christian</strong> life could easily turn piety in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> sanctim<strong>on</strong>y, reverence in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> rigidity, <strong>and</strong> sanctificati<strong>on</strong><br />

in<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> stuffiness. We must take God as seriously as we can, but never ourselves.<br />

God invites us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> approach him as his free, forgiven, secure children. We are <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> approach<br />

our holy God with healthy fear <strong>and</strong> hearts broken by our broken world. But God’s people are<br />

also called <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> rejoice, sing, play, <strong>and</strong> laugh because we know that <strong>the</strong> owner of all things is<br />

working out his perfect plan that ends with a wedding banquet <strong>and</strong> perfect resoluti<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> rest.<br />

This sure hope in God’s sovereign power <strong>and</strong> loving-kindness enables us <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play with reckless<br />

ab<strong>and</strong><strong>on</strong>, even before <strong>the</strong> Great Wedding Banquet begins.<br />

1 http://abcnews.go.com/Internati<strong>on</strong>al/wireS<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>ry?id=1705760<br />

Notes<br />

2 Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of <strong>the</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Element in Culture, (L<strong>on</strong>d<strong>on</strong>: Hunt Barnard <strong>and</strong> Co., 1949), 3.<br />

3 E.B. White, “Introducti<strong>on</strong>.” Some Remarks <strong>on</strong> Humor, 1994, http://www.quotati<strong>on</strong>spage.com/quote/984.html.<br />

4 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>, (New York: Harper <strong>and</strong> Row, 1972), 5.<br />

5 Jacks<strong>on</strong> Lee Ice, "Notes Toward a Theology of Humor," Religi<strong>on</strong> in <strong>Life</strong>: A <strong>Christian</strong> Quarterly of Opini<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> Discussi<strong>on</strong>, XLII, 3 (Autumn 1973), 392.<br />

6 This definiti<strong>on</strong> is based primarily <strong>on</strong> <strong>the</strong> help of <strong>the</strong> Oxford English Dicti<strong>on</strong>ary, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> seminal works <strong>on</strong> play by Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, Roger Caillois,<br />

Man <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> <strong>and</strong> Games, trans. Meyer Barash, (Glencoe: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961), <strong>and</strong> Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> (New York: Harper <strong>and</strong> Row, 1972).<br />

7 For an excellent discussi<strong>on</strong> of <strong>the</strong> potential seriousness of play see Huizinga, 5-6.<br />

8 Huizinga, 9.<br />

9 Huizinga, 8.<br />


Press, 1994).<br />

10 Fred S<strong>and</strong>ers, Torrey H<strong>on</strong>ors Institute, Biola University, “A <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Ethic: <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Studies in Psychology <strong>and</strong> Theology,” Unpublished essay, 1992, 15.<br />

11 Moltmann 13.<br />

12 Moltmann 21.<br />

13 Moltmann 22.<br />

14 Moltmann 5.<br />

15 Moltmann 43.<br />

16 This term <strong>and</strong> idea is following <strong>the</strong> thoughts of Marshall McLuhan, “Introducti<strong>on</strong>,” Underst<strong>and</strong>ing Media: The Extensi<strong>on</strong>s of Man, 2nd ed, (New York: MIT<br />

17 Moltmann 12.<br />

18 Moltmann 12.<br />

19 Moltmann 13.<br />

20 A possible reading of this verse is “which you formed <str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g> play with.”<br />

21 Moltmann 17.<br />

22 Moltmann 17.<br />

23 Mary J. Evans, The Message of Samuel, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 195.<br />

24 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 <strong>and</strong> 2 Samuel: an Introducti<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> Commentary, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1988), 209.<br />

25 S<strong>and</strong>ers 15-16.<br />

26 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III, 4, trans. A.T. Mackay, et. Al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961), 553-554.<br />

27 Barth 552.<br />

28 Moltmann 32-33.<br />

29 Douglas J<strong>on</strong>es, "Ir<strong>on</strong>ies of Laughter," Credenda Agenda (Moscow, Id. 2004), 4.<br />

30 J<strong>on</strong>es 4.<br />

31 C<strong>on</strong>rad Hyers, And God <str<strong>on</strong>g>Created</str<strong>on</strong>g> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 20.<br />


Works Cited<br />

Baldwin, Joyce, G. 1 <strong>and</strong> 2 Samuel: an Introducti<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong> Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1988.<br />

Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics . Vol. III. No. 4. Trans. A.T. Mackay, et al. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961.<br />

Caillois. Roger. Man, <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>, <strong>and</strong> Games. Trans. Meyer Barash. Glencoe: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.<br />

Evans, Mary J. The Message of Samuel: Pers<strong>on</strong>alities, Potential, Politics <strong>and</strong> Power. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press,<br />

2004.<br />

Huizinga Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of <strong>the</strong> <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Element in Culture. Bos<str<strong>on</strong>g>to</str<strong>on</strong>g>n: Beac<strong>on</strong> Press, 1955.<br />

Hyers, C<strong>on</strong>rad. And God <str<strong>on</strong>g>Created</str<strong>on</strong>g> Laughter. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987.<br />

Ice, Jacks<strong>on</strong> Lee. "Notes Toward a Theology of <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>." Religi<strong>on</strong> in <strong>Life</strong>: A <strong>Christian</strong> Quarterly of Opini<strong>on</strong> <strong>and</strong><br />

Discussi<strong>on</strong>. Vol. XLII. No. 3. Autumn, 1973.<br />

J<strong>on</strong>es, Douglas. "Ir<strong>on</strong>ies of Laughter." Credenda Agenda. Moscow, Id. 2004.<br />

McLuhann, Marshall. Underst<strong>and</strong>ing Media: The Extensi<strong>on</strong>s of Man. New York: MIT Press, 1994.<br />

Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g>. New York: Harper <strong>and</strong> Row, 1972.<br />

Ryken, Lel<strong>and</strong>, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper L<strong>on</strong>gman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, <strong>and</strong> Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dicti<strong>on</strong>ary<br />

of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.<br />

S<strong>and</strong>ers, Fred. “A <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Ethic: <str<strong>on</strong>g>Play</str<strong>on</strong>g> Studies in Psychology <strong>and</strong> Theology.” Unpublished paper, 1992.<br />


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