Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Playful God

Our post title may provoke cries of “Inappropriate!” God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. We might ask, “How could such a God, Creator of the universe, be a playful God?” If we consider that humanity was created in the “Image of God,” and consider that humans are endowed with consciousness from a very young age, we may acknowledge that our Creator is a playful God. Let us consider a rationale for this proposal.

Scripture tells us in Genesis 1:26 that God said “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” The pronoun us is plural, an early indicator of a triune God. In John’s gospel, the Word was a unique name for Christ—in Greek, “logos.”  Before the time dimension of this universe was created, the Word, or the logos, or Jesus Christ, was with God and the Spirit, all acting as agents of reason. Consciousness has been implanted in humanity as a reflection, an image, of the triune God. Initial consciousness appears very early in the life of a child and has a component of playfulness acquired as a gift from the Creator.

For the past few years we have become more aware of the rapidity of the onset of consciousness in young children. Consciousness, the subject of much mystery among behavioral scientists, may be defined as awareness of one’s surroundings, producing a sense of oneself, our environment, and other people. A few weeks after birth, a well-developed consciousness manifests itself, to the delight of parents and grandparents. They smile. Later, they giggle. Very young children entertain themselves with playful antics. Reasoning skills and humor are not far behind. If we agree that these traits are manifestations of the image of God, we may reverently infer that playful traits of children originate in the playful traits of the Creator. Of course, we may consider other divine traits of the Creator, many of which he generously provides to his created beings.

A famous scripture passage occurs in Proverbs 8:27-31. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, these verses illustrate that God was playing, not working, when he created our world and its living things. Verse 30 says that wisdom, personified, was  “…filled with delight day after day, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” In Hebrew literature, Proverbs is poetry, a literary genre used to convey truth. Proverbs 8 is a specific type of poem called an encomium, a poem of praise. Personified  wisdom is “filled with delight” when she contemplates “rejoicing in God’s created world.” Creation was daily the subject of delight. The whole world and mankind were the subjects of delight.

Dr. Richard A. Baer, emeritus professor of Natural Resources, Cornell University, delivered a lecture in 2003 entitled “The God Who Plays.” Baer made a distinction between enjoyment and use. Baer claims our modern society is in danger of losing the balance between enjoyment and use. If we overstress work, success, achievement, development, manipulation, exploitation and control, we may be in danger of understressing play, recreation, delight, celebration, awareness, leisure, and enjoyment.

We must not become overly utilitarian and work oriented. We must not become overloaded with information: email, Facebook, twitter, and texting. We must learn to enjoy people, not mainly to use others for our personal ends. Gifts of food and beverage are to be used for enjoyment and nutrition, not used to escape or drown our troubles. God gives meaning to each discrete moment, not only at the conclusion of each activity. If our experience is too laden with leading a historically significant life instead of working to achieve the integrity of each moment, our goal orientation may be too highly developed. We could neglect the Westminster Confession’s first question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer appropriately instructs us, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” At the university level we could be too dominated by the idea that “Knowledge is power.” We may attempt to dominate others.

In preparation for this post, I wrote to Dr. Baer. He responded with two profound statements: “Perhaps God at play may be the most serious creation theme of all. In his divine freedom he creates out of delight, not necessity.”