Category Archives: Theology of Fun

Play in Les Miserables and Isaiah

Some of the themes about fun I have been drawing out of the Bible are illustrated in a great work of literature. If you have seen the movie, you will remember that the orphan Cosette lives with the swindling Thenardier family, and is mistreated by them until she is adopted by the repentant criminal Jean Valjean. This story as told in the original novel demonstrates the goodness of play, the potential of sin in play, and the prerequisites of play; and it illustrates why we can play in the Kingdom of God.

The Goodness of Play

Among the great cruelties of the Thenardiers is their refusal to give Cosette a doll. Cosette gazes into a shop where an expensive doll is for sale, and to her it looks like paradise. The doll “was joy, splendour, riches, happiness.” Cosette is rarely allowed to play with a toy sword, and she dresses it up and sings it to sleep. The narrator explains:

The doll is one of the most imperious necessities, and at the same time one of the most charming instincts of female childhood. To care for, to clothe, to adorn, to dress, to undress, to dress over again, to teach, to scold a little, to rock, to cuddle, to put to sleep, to imagine that something is somebody–all the future of woman is there. Even while musing and prattling, while making little wardrobes and little baby-clothes, while sewing little dresses, little bodices, and little jackets, the child becomes a little girl, the little girl becomes a great girl, the great girl becomes a woman. The first baby takes the place of the last doll. A little girl without a doll is almost as unfortunate and quite as impossible as a woman without children.

Play is inherently “charming,” and is also useful for preparing a child for the important work of adulthood. It practices and displays the good functions of humanity, including the creativity that imitates God (see Theology of Fun: The Play of Creation). The Thenardier girls further demonstrate their creativity by dressing up their cat and enacting a story in which one girl is surprised at how hairy the other girl’s baby is. As we reflect God’s creativity and display the goodness of humanity, we bring glory to our Creator.

Finally, play brings happiness. When Jean Valjean meets Cosette, she is ugly because she is unhappy. When they move into a convent together, one of the best results is that Cosette is allowed an hour of play every day.

At the hours of recreation, Jean Valjean from a distance watched her playing and romping, and he could distinguish her laughter from the laughter of the rest. For, now, Cosette laughed. The gloomy cast had disappeared. Laughter is sunshine; it chases winter from the human face.

The result of this joy is that, when Cosette is fifteen years old, she is remarkably beautiful. The sunshine of laughter causes the rose to bloom.

The Potential Sin of Play

While the Thenardiers beat Cosette and force her to work, there is a group of drinkers constantly having a lot of fun. They laugh and sing an obscene and blasphemous song while completely ignoring Cosette’s plight. Rather than enjoying and displaying the goodness of creation for the glory of God, they pervert creation and dishonor Jesus; and their complete lack of seriousness prevents them from helping Cosette.

The Prerequisites of Play

Unlike the drinkers, Jean Valjean is determined to bring joy to Cosette. There are three related things that prevent Cosette from playing. First, she is terrified of Mrs. Thenardier. Second, she is forced to work with few breaks. Third, she does not have a doll. Jean Valjean has the means and the desire to overcome these obstacles. As Mrs. Thenardier makes Cosette knit stockings, Jean buys the unfinished stockings at an outrageously high price so that she will be free to play. After Mrs. Thenardier kicks Cosette for touching the girls’ doll, Jean buys the doll that Cosette had dreamed of from the shop. Unlike the drinkers, Jean Valjean is serious about letting children play.

Play in the Kingdom of God

Jesus, through his seriousness and suffering, buys His people the freedom to play. When we were slaves to fear, sin, and poverty, he bought our lives at the cost of his. By creating perfect peace, He frees us to play:

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

Isaiah 11:8, ESV

Today we can play because the security, righteousness, and wealth of the new creation are already ours. And yet we are serious, because Jesus has called us to follow his example of laying down our lives to bring others into the joy of His kingdom. We are playful in our seriousness because nothing can take our eternal joy, and we are serious in our playfulness because our present joy is a foretaste of God’s eternal kingdom, bought at the high price of Jesus’ blood. The church must have fun, praise God for its freedom, and welcome the world into its joy.

Theology of Fun: Fun and Romance

Romance is more than fun, but fun is part of romance.

Abimelech knows that Rebekah is Isaac’s wife when he sees them laughing together (Genesis 26:8). They let the cat out of the bag by having more fun than siblings should have together. A husband and wife can laugh, play, and enjoy each other with an incomparable intimacy.

The lovers in the Song of Songs run together (Song of Solomon 1:4), not because of danger or urgent need, but from joy and excitement. Solomon leaps around like a gazelle, peeking through windows and lattices at the most beautiful woman, and invites her to join in his frollicking (Song of Solomon 2:8–10). Later, the play becomes more intimate:

Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit.

Song of Songs 7:8-9, ESV

The final verse of Song of Songs ends just as playfully:

Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.

Song of Songs 8:14

Among the many joys of romance and marriage is a unique, playful intimacy. Lovers are swept by powerful emotions to laugh, run, and play together. Safety, joy, and desire overflow into active enjoyment. Romantic fun is a gift from God, and should be enjoyed for His glory.

Theology of Fun: The Play of Creation

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom have you made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

Here is the sea, great and wide,

which teems with creatures innumerable,

living things both small and great.

There go the ships,

and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

Psalm 104:24-26, ESV

Creation as Play

In chapter 3 of Theology of Play, Jürgen Moltmann compares God’s act of creation to play. Like play, creation is unnecessary, because God does not need anything. God’s creation is a theater in which He displays and enjoys His glory. He shows off His abilities by making a variety of creatures with unique appearances and abilities. The ocean especially is full of bizarre creatures, and every one glorifies God in its own way.

The Play of Creatures

God’s creation glorifies Him by playing. When animals play, they show off the abilities that God gave them. A deer leaps, a bird swoops and sings, two dogs wrestle, a humpback whale does a cannonball, a gorilla steals something from a silverback and runs. A boy balances on a ledge, a girl takes care of a doll, a woman moves her hips to music, a man throws a 40-yard pass. In all of these actions, we see the goodness of God’s creation.

Play as Creation

As God’s image-bearers, humans imitate God’s act of creation in their play. Whether we are imagining, doodling, role-playing, or playing a game, play creates a little world with its own facts and rules. This can be seen in the games the children are playing in Matthew 11:16–17. They may pretend to be dancing at a wedding, or mourning at a funeral. A good playmate would enter the imaginary world and feel emotions appropriate to the story. Jesus condemns his generation for being like the spoilsports who won’t play any of these games.

Theology of Fun: Fun is Good

“Theology of fun” is a phrase you might hear from a youth pastor, but what does it mean? The importance of the subject is clear, because fun and play are naturally an important part of our lives. If the Bible does not approve of fun, then everything from watching football to playing with our kids is a “guilty pleasure.”

And yet there is surprisingly little written on this subject. My initial Google search was not very fruitful, though I’ll link to two helpful articles at the end of this post. Some articles are about “why you need a theology of fun,” and others are about “my personal theology of fun.” The confusion that exists on this topic is hilariously epitomized at the end of an opinion article in Baptist News: “Fun needs to be a part of our Christian lives. I’m pretty sure it’s in the Bible — somewhere.”

So I hope this post will be my first of many contributions to this subject. The point of this post is that play, dancing, and laughter are blessings from God.

Play is a Blessing

Thus says the LORD of Hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

Zechariah 8:4-5, ESV

The kingdom of God is marked by the blessings of old age and joyful children. This is a picture of peace, joy, and abundance– the children can play because there is nothing to fear, and their lives are not consumed with labor. Childrens’ play is not only a means to an end, but is itself a blessing to be enjoyed.

Dancing is a Blessing

Their bull breeds without fail;

their cow calves and does not miscarry.

They send out their little boys like a flock,

and their children dance.

They sing to the tambourine and the lyre

and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.

Job 21:10-11

Job complains that the wicked are blessed by God. The verses cited here are an expansion of the blessings described in of Deuteronomy 28:4, and give a beautiful picture of the abundant life that God can give. The word translated dance here literally means leap around. These children are bursting with joy and energy, and the result is a fun dance.

Laughter is a Blessing

And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; and everyone who hears will laugh over me.”

Genesis 21:6

Sarah praises God for giving her laughter. The unexpected joy in ironic circumstances climaxed with laughter at God’s unusual providence. This creates a memorable story that is still fun to read. Isaac is a gift from God, and so is the laughter he brings.

Recommended Resources

https://joeiovino.com/2011/07/08/a-theology-of-fun/

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/holy-play