The Image of God is one of the deepest concepts in theology. If we are created by God, it follows that we reflect the Creator’s attributes. Humans possess special qualities which allow God himself to be made manifest in us. We have a natural, innate resemblance to God. At the level of genetics, we may draw an analogy. We possess physical resemblance to our parents. Sometimes our inherited body chemistry produces physical or behavioral traits. Personality traits are more complex. Factors of our physical inheritance are recognized and studied by geneticists.
With respect to non-physical human characteristics, we must search deeper for answers. The Image of God refers to a natural, innate resemblance to God the Creator as a rational spiritual being. Apart from passages like Gen. 1-2, Job 38:7, Psalm 104:26, and Proverbs 8:27-31 which speak of the delight God experiences in creating the physical universe and the creatures in our world, we infer that the Creator is a God who plays in the most respectful and reverent sense. These playful traits are inherited by the higher forms of living creatures he has created. His created beings play.
What are the dimensions of playing? This is a question for deep contemplation about the characteristics of the God of Creation. Does human playfulness mirror God’s playfulness? Or should it? Yes, the ability to play is one of God’s greatest gifts in coping with the realities of life. Play is meaningful. It possesses a quality of rational maturity. Play is governed by rules which make play more enjoyable. Violation of the rules ruins the joy of play. Rules exist to make play possible.
When God took delight in creating the physical world, he installed game rules. Even before living things were created on Earth, the physical creation was subject to physical constants. When the angelic hosts shouted for joy “…while the morning stars sang together…” (Job 38:7) at the laying of the universe’s cornerstone, they also may have delighted in the beauty of the “rules of the game” established by God for the operation of the universe:
Later, when the time arrived that the physical conditions of the earth could support life, especially human life, God again established rules. This time, the rules applied to human activities in every sphere of life. In terms of fulfillment of human happiness, God established humans capable of self-reflective rational thought processes. These are attributes of God gifted to humanity. We do not stretch the point by proposing that God enabled human play not only to provide enjoyment but also to provide a model for the positive role of rules. In this sense, we consider human talent for production of athletic contests, art, music, literature, professional work, and a host of other human activities to be joyful and productive play, reflections of the Image of God.
It is not accidental that children in the earliest months and years of life spend most of their conscious moments devising amusing play activities when they are not crying to be fed or indicating their need for bedtime. As they become older, the lessons they acquired from non-structured play and later, structured play, manifest traits of the image of God. The Creator of all things provides an interrelated set of human traits in his image, including playfulness, to provide fulfillment of human happiness.