Playfulness is not the first thing people think of when they think of the Creator of the universe. Our religious interpretations of him often paint him as an austere, angry, or even terrifying presence. Such views help keep the people fearful instead of faithful, which makes them easier to manipulate.
But how can that be an accurate portrayal of the God who made giraffes and hummingbirds, octopi and penguins, even sex, not have a pretty vibrant sense of humor?
Isn’t the playfulness of joy and laughter one of our most treasured human experiences? It draws our attention when children are shrieking with delight or when a conversation erupts in laughter. Wouldn’t these things be closer to the innocence of Creation than the despair and fear our more adult anxieties drag us into?
If you’ve been reading my blog of late or listening to the podcasts, you’ll recognize that Romans 8:19-21 had been close to my heart these days.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
While contemplating this Scripture, having recently visited the burn scar of a large wildfire, I sensed his Spirit whisper in my heart, “It’s time.” My whole being shook with what I assumed was the same eager expectation the creation experiences. It’s time for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed on the earth. I don’t have a clue if this is that final, end-of-days revelation of his children. Still, I did sense in the wasteland of our virus-devastated, politically divided, and depression-rampant culture he wants to reveal himself more graphically in those who have come to rest in his love and express the joy of his delight.
Can you imagine how much a playful heart would stand out in this season of high anxiety and despair? And by playful, I don’t mean frivolous or flippant, but one who has found a different source of life that transcends the events surrounding them. You know the kind, one who remains lighthearted even in the face of stress and expresses the kind of humor helpful in opening doors to people weighed down by the world.
Truly, God is the most playful presence I’ve ever encountered. Oh, there are times when he is somber and severe, that’s true. Truth can hurt. Jesus sweated great drops of blood in Gethsemane, and Paul reminded many of those who came to faith during his first missionary journey that it is through suffering that we often enter the kingdom. But that doesn’t discount the power of play, especially in our relationship with God and in times of extremity.
As a dad with his young son or daughter, God is playful, too. Some of the funniest thoughts I’ve ever had have come from him. I’ve often laughed out loud at an observation that completely flips how I am looking at a situation. Jesus often played with his disciples, whether it was calming a storm that scared them or telling them how easy it is to ignore the log stuck in their own eye while trying to plucking out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s. I love his playfulness with the Syrophoenician woman who reminded him that even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table.
People who are playful with God don’t trivialize him. It’s all the more glorious when it’s with the Transcendent God of the universe. It keeps us lighthearted even in the midst of struggle and brings the laughter that is a medicine for the heart. People who know God this way don’t fall into the perfectionist tone of an expert, but even though they haven’t figured it all out, they are confident in the One who does.
We took a lot of criticism for how playful Papa was in The Shack. Many complained that we didn’t give God his reverence, especially when he spills the pancake batter or tells Mack that he’s “messing with him.” Playfulness was Papa’s doorway into Mack’s great sadness. He wasn’t making light of his pain but finding a way through it to transform his heart and to unmask the lies of darkness that held him captive.
Sadly, so much of religion teaches us the opposite. Instead of lightheartedness, it weighs us down with shame and fear. Instead of helping us learn to rest in God’s work, it pushes us to try harder and do more for God. No wonder religion is so exhausting and so unfruitful. Learning to play with our Father is where we hear him best and are most free to respond to his desires for us. I suspect Father’s playfulness has a lot to do with keeping our hearts at rest in him, especially when circumstances can be so challenging around us. Lightness is not the way to avoid our pain but to transit through it to greater transformation and fruitfulness on the other side.
I’m convinced that this is the revelation of God in his children for which creation eagerly awaits. As you come to rest in his love, you too will discover how playful this God can be and why childlikeness is the attribute Jesus identified as most helpful to us in exploring his kingdom. If you haven’t discovered that yet, talk to him about it. Ask him to teach you and lean into those spaces where you can stake your trust in his love and how that can set you at rest in him.
As important as this is for all of us, I sense God is wanting to breathe this reality into a new generation of younger men and women who have been disillusioned and disappointed by religion and have yet to know how real and wonderful God is. He’s calling to them even now and those who respond will become a contagion for his love.
I am excited to see what the coming weeks and months might bring as God reveals himself in his creation. As I’ve begun sharing this, I have heard from so many others that say they have had similar insights about God making himself known through love, rest, and play. This is not our work to do; it is his work in us. Yield to him as best you see and watch what he will unfold.