Towards A Theology of Play


Towards a Theology of Play

There is plenty of research and writing about the need for enjoying one’s Sabbath time. After a summer of driving my students hard towards a better understanding of God (believing that what we think about God determines how we act and live our lives) by exploring His attributes I wanted to give them a Sunday “off” at youth group. The purpose was less to explain the need for a Sabbath and have one (though we did) than to simply hope to redeem time off for these students. I’m a parent – I wish my son wouldn’t like to almost exclusively play (to my chagrin I realize my cultural conditioning in that statement). On the other hand, our culture makes much of work and commitments while making fun of those who seem to spend their time playfully. The generation coming up is perhaps more stressed than at any other time in history!

Despite this, I’m gaining a bit of a bookish reputation with my new youth group. Since I got here in April we’ve played a few games, but I find this to be a far less important aspect of youth group than helping teach our students a more vibrant faith (Vibrant faith is contagious, disciple-making faith). I’m having fun, I make our youth meetings fun even while we’re doing lessons, and I’m hearing from most all of these students that it is a direction they’re quite pleased with. Let’s be real though, many students come to youth group simply for a breather from “life” and to have some fun in the midst of their busy lives, especially now that school has started.

This past Sunday we had a game night. There was junk food galore, board games spread around, foosball upstairs, some football tossing outside, and an impromptu dodgeball game targeting those of us gathered at the different game tables. We had a blast. With about fifteen minutes left, though, I pulled them aside for a “Gotcha!”

Promised Play

Rather than playing (ha!) into cultural stereotypes glorifying work to the demonization of play, I wanted to help redeem the idea of play for our students and give them an ordained view of playtime (in community).

Psalm 104 celebrates the glory of God’s creation and the diversity of His creativity. Specifically, vv 24-26 speaks of something (Leviathan) created for play! Indeed, you can’t look at some of the creatures in our world and not see a playful Creator God!

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Time and Chance

11 I have seen something else under the sun:
 The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
12 Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:
 As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.”
– Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
My grandpa is a great man! He has raised six kids and has too many grandkids and great-grandkids to keep track of. He was a farm boy scouted by pro baseball teams. He was a horseman. He was an insurance salesman. He taught me how to golf. He made me think that if I ever decided to smoke it would be a pipe like him (with Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco only, thank you very much). He doesn’t have a theology degree but knows more about the Bible than I do. He takes care of his family and presides over it well.
But like Solomon discovered and recorded in Ecclesiastes, time and chance affect us all, whether we’ve lived a good life, a hard life, a long one, or a short one. The great equalizer, cancer, has caught up with my grandpa. It began as pancreatic cancer, but despite his pancreas being removed it has metastasized and is spreading to his liver and beyond. Time and chance…
In the last few years my grandpa and I have grown apart – not through any intention on either of our parts. It just gradually happened. Time and chance…
I hope to rectify that. We can’t go golfing, but we can still sit and talk. It almost feels awkward at this point. As though I’m ashamed for what I’ve missed by letting us grow apart. I understand lots of kids grow up and just get involved in their own lives. However, I sure didn’t think I could be that selfish. Shame is a good word. And yet if you’re feeling shame don’t let it control you or dissuade you from doing what you know is right. Time and chance may take their toll too soon, and then you’ll have to live with the compounded shame of never doing anything about your shame in the first place.
Life really is too short. Time and chance don’t help the odds. So get out there and do some living!