Playing like God

How can you image God at work, leisure and play? In the Bible, we have clear instruction on how we can do this. No longer do you have to have feel and think fuzzily on how to spend your time. God cares about how you work, have leisure and  play, and he gives us Guidelines to do all three. The Biblical information comes primarily through Genesis 1–2, however brief explorations into other biblical literature also produce some benefit.

Imaging God’s Work

God created the world in six days, declaring it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Then he rested on the Seventh day (Gen 2:1–3). That God worked and apparently enjoyed his work (he said it was very good!) gives people a model to understand work.

While many view work as a means to live, or as means to pay for entertainment, or as a means to live a certain kind of lifestyle, God views work as something natural, normal and human. Working with joy, with creativity, and with purpose emulates God. Thus, work proclaims God’s glory, name and fame, giving dignity and purpose to work.

While Capitalism says that work is a commodity to be bartered with and sold, God says work in itself is a dignified and honorable profession that he authorized. While Socialism says that work belongs to the community, God says he owns work, not the community. The highest good is not wealth or social utopia but God’s glory spanning the world.

In short, neither a boss, money or community owns a person’s work. God owns it and he gives a special dignity to it, as a working God. Humanity must realize this and must do all things to the glory of God. Depreciating work at its worst is dishonoring God whose glory is in work.

Imaging God’s Leisure

God rested on the seventh day and enjoyed his creation (Gen 2:1–3). Leisure does not require production but an appreciation of production. The workaholic understands this little. He works until he drops, steam rolling over anyone in his path. Success and prestige are what make work worthwhile and leisure does not fit into this scheme. The entire Western world seems enamored by the glamour and glory of success.

Leisure makes one feel guilty, therefore. Even in leisure, workaholics think about work. Or, they become so exhausted because of work that leisure becomes a mindless shut down, watching television passively without energy to do anything else. Work becomes an idol, a need and workaholics have no energy or time for anything else, much less leisure.

But God rested. He enjoyed his work. Later Israel would be commanded to rest on the Sabbath day because God did so when he created (cf. Ex 20:8–11). In fact, because of humanity’s tendency to an attitude of acquisition, God made his people rest in various festivals and worship events. Leisure was built into the fabric of Israel’s life. So in creation, God set a template whereby man should emulate his leisure.

Significantly, however, leisure does not involve passivity. Throughout Scripture, leisure  in religious events or enjoying one’s production is to be done with vigor. True leisure lends to worship of God, introspection, cultivation of abilities or increase of knowledge that a typical day of work will not allow, and fellowship with others. Leisure, thus, is as important as work to making a complete a person. Without leisure one cannot properly image God.

Reclaiming leisure as a time of personal enrichment, relationship building, enjoyment of God’s creation or any such activity is necessary to image God. Accepting that six out of seven days God worked, one must realize that was to set up the template of work and rest in creation. Work originally was not toilsome but enjoyable and probably had the character of leisure and play intertwined throughout until the fall happened.

Leisure must be reclaimed to image God properly on earth and fulfill the mission to spread God’s glory. This is a moral issue.  God cares about how people spend our time in leisure.

Imaging God’s Play

Leland Ryken best explains how God “plays.” He is quoted at length here:

At the heart of God’s creation is something extravagant and gratuitous, going beyond what is strictly needed for survival. Someone has commented that the lilies of that Jesus told us to contemplate ‘are lazy lilies, occupying space amid the common field grasses for no reason other than that it pleases God. Can we appreciate God’s creative prodigality?’ God made provision for the quality of human life, simply its survival. He is the God who came that people “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). At its best, leisure is part of the human quest for the abundant life.[1]

It was this beautiful creation that God playfully made. Consider the Jerusalem Bible translation of Proverbs 8:30–31:

I was by his side, a master craftsman,

delighting him day after day,

ever at play in his presence,

at play everywhere in his world,

delighting to be with the sons of men

This remarkable Proverb concerning creation illustrates something of the playfulness of God. With regard to the sea, Psalm 104:26 says, “There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” In these passages (others exist), God added an element of play into the created order.

Thus, humanity should not to shy away from joviality and playfulness in life. Since God is this way, monotone humdrummers do not image God properly. Of course, all of this must be measured by the effects of the fall of man, the subsequent revelation of Jesus, and redeemed humanity’s ability to image God in this life.

***Later this week, we will look at how the fall of mankind affected the way we work, take leisure and play. We will also see how Jesus did these things. Until then!

            [1] Ryken, 179.

Defining God’s Image

A good blog post argues against a good opponent. In this case, culture at large opposes the present position—both Christian and non-Christian. The view espoused here is biblical, but not normally called Christian. The view espoused here is correct, but not commonly accepted. The point is not to argue against some obscure scholar, but to address a largely unaddressed issue in the Western world: that is, how the image of God informs our work, leisure and play.

The Image of God

One must define the image of God because people image God on earth. To do so, one must look to the Biblical data. Genesis 1:26–28 speaks directly about the image God. The ESV translates thus:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him; /male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Two problems emerge from this text. Defining the image of God is a problem because the text does not explain how the original couple were created in the image of God, but just that they were created in the image God. Also, the two words “image” and “likeness” need to be defined, especially with regard to just what their prepositions signify (i.e. “in” and “after,” respectively).

Today we will answer the first problem: how to define the image of God by looking at three basic views on God’s image in humanity?

Three Views on The Image of God

Three rational explanations on the image of God follow. The referential view claims people are divine-like. The worst expression of this position believes people are made in the physical image of God. The better expressions of this view see something in humanity that resembles God. Collins calls this the traditional view. This view suffers from being too ambiguous; but it has merit in that something does resemble God in humans.

The representational view moves from defining the image in terms of “is” to “does.” In other words, it speaks less about being God and more about acting like God. In Genesis 1:28, God commands a blessing upon humanity, providing precedent for this view: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The terms “subdue” and “have dominion” over the earth signify a regal role people play in their environment.

The biggest problem with this position is that the bible never equates God’s image with the function of subduing and exercising dominion. God commands it, and it is in a context where the image of God receives focus. However, the text does not describe God’s image as such. The best one can say is that God’s image relates to humanity’s ability to subdue and have dominion over the earth, since no other creature has that ability. Yet this view fails to convince fully.

The relational view teaches communion between God, man and woman is the image of God. The image is relationships. Genesis 1:27 focuses on the creation of both man and woman in the image of God, giving credence to this view. However, this view fails to sate because the text does not explicitly state this connection is the image of God. However, the relational view makes a valid case that relationships make up the image of God.

All three views share truth, but not one view fully explains what the image of God is. When rightly understood, the image of God will greatly inform one’s understanding of life, work, leisure and play. One hint as to the true meaning of the “image of God” comes in the prepositions preceding the terms used (i.e. “in our image, after our likeness”).

Next week, we’ll take a look at how these two little prepositions “in” and “after” shape our views on God’s image. Until Then!

Defining work, leisure and play – Part 3

Definitions of work, leisure and play follow, since all three make up necessary components of life to make a complete person.

  • Work is necessary toil to live and support oneself, which includes working at a job. Work also images God and therefore makes a person complete.
  • Leisure is reflecting upon finished production, self, others and God to the end of self-enrichment. Leisure is not the absence of work nor is it mindless state. At its best, leisure is a process of self-enrichment that reflects on what has been done, searches the heart, plans for the future, and pursues betterment through learning, music and the arts.
  • Play is doing that which is morally beneficial in a relaxing and enjoyable way. It is enjoying what God enjoys and taking advantage of entertainment in a God-honoring way, because God cares how we play.

God cares about how people use all three. Sadly, leisure activities have become an embarrassment in the West because they are viewed as being “non-productive” and unhelpful. However, by devaluing leisure people lose their humanity, since when leisure is discounted, individuals stop imaging God.

The Big Idea: Work, leisure and play must be united in the life of a person[1] to fully image God, that is, to fully grow into the redeemed image of Christ. Humanity is morally accountable in how it does all three; so the workaholic who takes no leisure sins as much as the one who lives for leisure. Balance is the target. In a culture that overly values success and results, Christians must strive for excellence in leisure and play, because work is idolized too much.

Method: Definitions on the image of God and how that relates to humans will appear this Friday. Subsequent days will begin answering ‘what it means to image God in life?’ and ‘what it means to grow into the image of Christ?’ Finally, I hope to add a personal example of what this looks like in the life of a believer caps off the argument to bring the abstract into the concrete.

            [1] But this may not be possible in a sin cursed world (some people must work all day just to live!). However, the ideal remains what it is, even though God cursed creation.

Work, Leisure and Play

In the Schooner “work and leisure,” humanity mans the deck.  But these sailors find themselves in a quandary, because humans cannot properly navigate this spirited ship. In a perpetual night, life-sailors gasp air, never finding the rope-ladder to mount the mast and spot enemies or refuge. Standing behind the ship, as life sails past, humanity indulges in every wind of entertainment or pleasure. After a time, life-sailors jostle to the bow, mapping the ship’s course down to every nautical detail. Working and working, these seamen indulge in it, advance in it, and race for prestige in labor. Whatever stands in their way, these mariners navigate straight through the shallows, often pushing through with oars. However, these sailors will never spot an enemy ship or a cove of refuge, because they have never climbed the mast to see open sky and sea. They swing to the poles of excessive work or excessive pleasure, never discovering balance.

Tragically, many people live in these separate poles of life, never finding balance. On the one hand,  people fly to leisure to sate desires. Work functions for them solely to provide leisure. Receiving derision, jobs simply carries one to the weekend where real life occurs. Souls become week-end warriors, living for pleasure and play.

On the other hand, addicted proletarians toil like alcoholics imbibe spirits. These commonly take the name, “Workaholics.” Mr. Workaholic pinpoints his identity and his self-worth by the job in which he labors. He smashes through anyone or anything in work-drunk rampage. Relationships fracture under the tyranny of Mr. Workaholic’s craving to succeed.

The inhabitants of this blue earth live both lives, but both lives do not satisfy. Because of this tragedy, serious questions loom over work, leisure and play.

I hope to explore some of these questions and relate how the Bible wants us to work, have leisure, and play over the next few days. Come back in a couple days for Part II.