For the Logos on high plays,
stirring the whole cosmos back and forth, as he wills,
into shapes of every kind.Gregory Nazianzen, quoted in Man at Play by Hugo Rahner
In chapter 1 of Man at Play, Hugo Rahner expertly traces the concept of “Logos at play” from Proverbs 8, to Greek philosophy and myth, to church fathers, to medieval thought. In Rahner’s words:
It is that both creation and incarnation are expressions of God’s love, and this love, though full of meaning and purpose, is a love that works in creative freedom wholly ungoverned by necessity or constraint…
God’s acts of creation and providence are play because they are meaningful but not necessary. They are done from joy, and not from any external constraint. God shows off what He can do, playing with men and making things for them to play with. The main Bible passage behind this doctrine is this statement from lady Wisdom:
then was I beside him as artisan;
A I was his delight day by day,
B playing before him all the while,
B’ Playing over the whole of his earth,
A’ having my delight with human beings.Proverbs 8:30-31, NAB, chiastic structure mine
Observant readers might notice that I use a Catholic translation above, and this is because Protestant translations tend to use the mild word “rejoicing” instead of “playing” here. This is a mistake because “rejoicing” does not necessarily imply fun, but fun is never absent when this Hebrew word is used. It is variously translated “laugh” (the basis of Isaac’s name), “play,” “celebrate,” “dance,” “amuse,” “mock,” etc. Yahweh delights in His Wisdom as she has fun helping Him create the world.
But no translation is perfect, and I think the NAB makes a mistake by ending with “human beings” instead of the literal translation “sons of men” (or even “sons of Adam”). Since Adam’s sons were born after the fall, this literal translation continues Wisdom’s delight into the fallen world in which we meet Cain and Abel, Lamech and Enoch, Nimrod and Abraham. We are Wisdom’s workmanship and delight even today through God’s wise providence.
There is a long Christian tradition of applying this description of Wisdom to God the Son, the Logos. Like Wisdom, He was eternally begotten by the Father, the Father delighted in Him, and all things were made through Him. But whether or not Wisdom merely represents God the Son, this passage teaches that God’s acts of creation and providence are a form of play.
Application and Fun Encanto Reference
I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice… Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways.”Proverbs 8:20, 32, NASB
Rahner explains that we are God’s play things, and the world is given to us as our play thing. God plays by making things from nothing, and we play by creatively using what He made. God delights in Wisdom’s play, and, when we walk in her righteous paths, God delights in our creative play as well. We were made to rule over creation in God’s place, taking the materials He made and bringing them to their telos. We create families, houses, graphics, and products. We write stories, software, music, and instructions. We invent recipes, dance moves, workflows, and games. Whether at home or at work, we play when we joyfully add creativity into our tasks.
The powerful fun of creation is illustrated in “What Else Can I Do?” in Encanto. During this song, Isabella casts off artificial constraints and creates with joy and self-expression instead of mere utility and “perfection.” She tests the limits of her abilities and creates a stunning variety. She also plays with her sister by dancing, taking risks, and getting messy; through this creative play they get to know each other better, and organically grow more fond of each other. On the surface it looks like a rejection of beauty, work, and femininity, but in reality these are brought to their potential as Isabella joyfully brings all of her creativity into her creation. There are no straight lines in nature, and this complexity adds to its beauty. The work that Isabella has put into being the stereotypically perfect young woman allows her to play with a very feminine agility, balance, and flexibility, like a master pianist who can express herself even while playing sheet music.