Is God Playful?

Woman playing fron unsplash

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 Biblehub source with Zechariah 8:5, which says, “The streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”  Other responses 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 in which 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!

Is God playful?

God rejoices today when we come to him, return to him or show our love to 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, 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.

What do you think?  Can you think of any other Scriptural evidence of God’s playfulness?

This post is featured on the blog of Unlocking the Bible. I encourage you to visit Unlocking the Bible for more biblical inspiration.

 

 

 

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9 Responses to Is God Playful?

  1. Hi Judy – when I read your post I was reminded of Marlena Graves’ book A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness, which I remembered had a chapter in it on childlikeness and play. As I hunted for the book I was also thinking of G.K. Chesterton, who talks in Orthodoxy about God’s playful, childlike delight in creation each day. So I found Marlena Graves’ book on my shelf, and when I turned to the relevant chapter, I saw that she ALSO references Chesterton’s comments about God being playful: how He enjoys the “do it again” of daily creation, just like children enjoy doing their favourite things over and over. I wish I could quote this whole chapter from Graves because it’s delightful!

    • Judy says:

      Well, I’ll have to check out Marlena Graves’ book myself! It’s difficult for me to imagine the all powerful God of the universe delighting himself in the “do it again” aspect of creation. That is no doubt my failure to fully appreciate God. Thinking about play has opened my eyes to all kinds of aspects of God that I’m learning to notice and appreciate. Thank you for adding “do it again!”

  2. Reminded me of Psalm 104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
    Apparently, the LXX goes on to describe how they “frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.”

  3. Tim says:

    I definitely think Jesus used humor and puns to get people thinking, both before and after the cross. E.g., comparing people to being worth more than many sparrows (Mt. 10) is kind of funny to me.

    • Judy says:

      Yep, humor has a way of making us think about things differently, and Jesus was all about opening people’s eyes so that they could see who he was/is. Thanks for your comment, Tim, and for sharing this on Facebook.

  4. Larry Who says:

    Does Jesus have a sense of humor?

    Jesus spat on the ground and made mud balls and anointed the eyes of a blind man with the mud (John 9). Then He told the blind man to go to the pool of Siloam and wash the mud off, which was a two mile walk through crowds. Remember: the man is blind. Mud? Spit? Two miles? The man was healed. Now, think about the humor in God’s ridiculous plan for the man’s healing.

    A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

    Plus, children and animals are born as playful beings. They romp, jump, and are totally carefree. It’s not until they are hurt or hungry or frightened or tired that they lose their playfulness. So, God creates them with playful hearts and our world drags them down with problems.

    • Judy says:

      “God creates them with playful hearts and our world drags them down with problems.” I wonder what it would be like to have such faith that we weren’t dragged down by our problems? Jesus lived with that kind of faith, yet he still wept over the results of sin. I agree with you, Larry, that Jesus had a tremendous sense of humor. And I always wondered why God healed that blind man in such a strange way. Humorous? I guess it is!

  5. Kathleen Miller says:

    After the Resurrection, Jesus was over-the-top playful! Appearing suddenly, concealing and then revealing his identity, reading Thomas’ mind, keeping cool on the road to Emmaus. He must have been so delighted in the aftermath of his victory. (It is also amusing, at least to us, that the best Bible teaching in history —on the road— went utterly unrecorded. We are meant to tease it out for ourselves.) The Beatitudes are all about finding blessing, joy, and happiness in the most unusual places. The entire New Testament counts as comedy rather than tragedy: the ending is full of delight, every tear is wiped away, and all the loose ends are braided up in glory.

    • Judy says:

      Beautiful Kathleen! I confess that I’ve never thought about Jesus’s post resurrection appearances as playful. I wonder why? When I picture these events I don’t imagine them as playful, with people smiling and enjoying the moments, but I see everyone as interested, paying attention, and looking for the deeper meaning in it all. Perhaps because that’s how much of our Bible study is done today. You are so right that the New Testament would be classified as a comedy, not a tragedy, and that it is full of delight. Thank you for adding some delight to my day!

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