Time to Play!

Blind Faith (No. 32, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for August 10, 2017
Time to Play!

Play is far more pervasive than involvement in sports.
Admittedly, baseball fans’ attention sparks when they hear “Play ball!”
signaling start time for a game. Football fans are getting worked up for pro
pre-season and – much better – college kick-offs. But play shows up in all
kinds of human experience. Often it is discouraged, regarded as
time-wasting, frivolous activity. “Stop playing around!” we might say in
exasperation at another’s deviation from our own serious – and perfectly
reasonable – agenda. More positively, play might be seen as a reward for
hard work. We may play a game, play cards, play some music or play with a
puzzle as a form of relaxation, after we have done the tasks required of us.

Maybe we should not be so quick to dismiss play as merely a
diversion, an unimportant activity. One of the signs of the promised
Messianic age, according to Zechariah 8:5, will be children playing freely
in the streets of the New Jerusalem. Job 40:20 alludes to the play of the
hippopotamus and other animals in God’s good creation. Leviathan, a mighty
sea creature, God created to play in the ocean depths, notes Psalm 104:25.
Add the numerous references in Psalms to playing music in joyful praise to
God, and elements of play gain stature as part of God’s design.

The essential role of play in human activity is the subject of the book Homo
Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Written in 1936 by Dutch
philosopher and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga, the seminal book traces
pervasive qualities of play in every aspect of life. For Huizinga, play is a
primary means of expression, learning, and organization of human society.
All forms of play share three characteristics. First, play is a voluntary,
free activity. Second, it interrupts normal, everyday activity, and stands
outside the immediate satisfaction of physical (and many psychological)
needs and appetites. Third, play occupies a special time and place,
involving an interplay between the ordinary routines of life and the special
rules ordering the play. Huizinga finds that human beings achieve new
insights and express deeper understanding of life in the many forms of play.
The action of playing frees an individual or group from the limits of
ordinary life to experience transcendence, expressed through language, myth,
and ritual. We are homo ludens, “man, the player,” in our endless quest for
deeper understanding of all human experience.

Building upon the notion of homo ludens, the contemporary
academic discipline of game theory continues to investigate diverse aspects
of life. Harvard professor Martin Nowak applies game theory to study fields
as varied as economics, cancer biology, linguistics, and theology. He plays
out certain carefully constructed games to gain insight into structures of
nature and of human behavior. Through game theory, he wants to understand
one of the most puzzling yet fundamental features of life: cooperation. Most
forms of play involve cooperation. For Nowak, ” Cooperation is what happens
when someone or something gets a benefit because someone or something else
pays a cost.” He is searching for the reasons that individuals choose to
cooperate for the common good.

Concepts of play as a universal human experience and
applications of game theory can focus attention on vital elements in our
life of faith. God, who created the playful spirit evident in many
creatures, and who invited cooperation from Adam and Eve and all their
progeny to care for his creation and each other, is revealed in every
discovery of truth. If concepts of play and game theory’s insights into
cooperation lead to genuine understanding of life and creation, then the
wonder of God’s design can be more fully appreciated by anyone living in
faithful relationship with God.

We speak of play in relation to our experience of God perhaps
more than we realize. Many churches print in their orders of worship the
“Prelude” and “Postlude,” the typical instrumental musical pieces played at
the beginning and at the end of the worship service. Homo ludens is derived
from the Latin word, ludo, “to play.” The Latin root also is found in
prelude and postlude. Literally, they are “before the play,” and “after the
play.” Soren Kierkegaard observed that worship can be thought of as a play,
in which the worshippers are the actors, the minister and worship leaders
are prompters, and the audience is God. Worship meets Huizinga’s three
characteristics of play. It is entered into voluntarily and freely by the
worshipper. Worship interrupts ordinary life, fulfilling more than a craving
for physical needs in an encounter with the Spirit of God. It most often
occurs with the assistance of a specified place and time, the positive sense
of ritual. As we are brought into the presence of God in the play of
worship, we may have moments of new insights and expressions of response to
God – interludes, “within the play” – reflecting with awe on the nature of
God, or responding in personal confession, praise, or thanksgiving, or
quietly listening for God’s voice.

Worship can be played one-on-one with God, and private practice
of worship enhances one’s ability to experience worship in all its fullness.
For most of us, however, cooperating with other followers of Jesus is
essential for developing strength for living a life of faith. To cooperate
in worship often requires one worshipper to bear some cost in order that a
fellow worshipper can know the benefit of closer relationship with God and
God’s people. Maybe it means singing a hymn or chorus that is not my
favorite, but speaks volumes of God’s grace to another. It could mean
adjusting my expectations for the order of worship, admitting different
“rules” or rituals that allow another to draw closer to Christ. The preacher
in the book of Hebrews addresses our cooperation in worship directly: ” Let
us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good
deeds. {25} You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are
doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other.” (Hebrews
10:24-25a NCV) In the context of encouraging elders in the church, who
assist believers to grow stronger in faith and join in the work of Christ,
Paul grieves over any who do not cooperate in the life of the congregation:
” There are many people who refuse to cooperate, who talk about worthless
things and lead others into the wrong way.” (Titus 1:10a NCV) To the
believers at Corinth who had a track record for lack of cooperation, Paul
wrote: ” So, brothers and sisters, what should you do? When you meet
together, one person has a song, and another has a teaching. Another has a
new truth from God. Another speaks in a different language, and another
person interprets that language. The purpose of all these things should be
to help the church grow strong.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NCV) A body of
believers truly “on their game” will exhibit a high level of cooperation
that results in mutual benefit in drawing closer to Christ. Paul describes
how this cooperation is played out: ” Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to
understand what the Lord wants you to do…. {19} Then you will sing psalms
and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in
your hearts. {20} And you will always give thanks for everything to God the
Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. {21} And further, you will
submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:17, 19-21

Play has a multitude of nuances. Are you just playing at being a
Christian? Are God’s justice, mercy, and grace playing itself out in your
life, providing blessings and strength for others? Are you voluntarily
interrupting your everyday routine in order to create a time and place for
having an interlude with God? With whom are you cooperating to grow closer
to Christ? Play on!

J. Edward Culpepper
(Edited from Blind Faith, January 26, 2012)

Dear Blind Faith Readers:

Blind Faith will retire as a weekly devotional with my 65th
birthday next month. I have enjoyed writing and sharing these promptings to
recognize God’s presence in events of each day, the enduring witness of
scripture, and other testimonies of faith. I have sensed that the time has
come for me to pursue other avenues of service, although the scope of such
opportunities is not fully evident to me yet. I am looking forward to God
guiding me to new endeavors as he has done in the past.

The last weekly posting of Blind Faith will be September 13. I
anticipate that Blind Faith devotionals may appear intermittently “as the
Spirit moves.” Weekly posts will not be the case. I deeply appreciate the
privilege you have given me of visiting via your e-mail In-box or FaceBook
news feed each week. Thank you for your responses, forwards, re-posts, and
faithful reading of Blind Faith. I will continue to pray that God will use
nearly 12 years of these writings spread across cyber-space to encourage and
build faith as he sees fit.

I borrow my concluding words from Peter’s reflections over his
ministry. This is what I have sought to do and pray that God will continue
to do through me:

do your best to add these things to your lives: to your faith, add goodness;
and to your goodness, add knowledge; {6} and to your knowledge, add
self-control; and to your self-control, add patience; and to your patience,
add service for God; {7} and to your service for God, add kindness for your
brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love. {8} If all
these things are in you and are growing, they will help you to be useful and
productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.. {12} You know these
things, and you are very strong in the truth, but I will always help you
remember them. {13} I think it is right for me to help you remember .. {15}
I will try my best so that you may be able to remember these things even
after I am gone. (2 Peter 1:5-8, 12-13a, 15 NCV)

God’s blessings,
Ed Culpepper