February 8, 2017: DOES GOD PLAY?

~by Louis Templeman

Does God play? This is an odd question which presented itself to my imagination recently. To consider such an idea is to (excuse the $2.00 word) anthropomorphize God: to make God human. It is a way to try to understand by using metaphors. It is practically unavoidable to undertake theological discussions without this rhetorical device; humanizing God so we can understand him in our language.

So, the question, “Does God play?” may be odd, yet I feel it is practical. We find play in his creation. Play is very human. It is also very other. Very dog. Very feline. Very dolphin. Very childlike (human). A great many mammals play. I don’t know that play can be found elsewhere in the natural world. But Christians believe people were created in the image of God and it is not much of a stretch to make this connection.

There are a few incidences in the Biblical record that indicate humor, or play. The habit of God meeting with his human family in the garden in the cool of the evening does not speak of play but it does provide the place and atmosphere where pleasure and play could easily take place. Later in Genesis, in Noah’s lineage, there is an individual, Jubal Cain, who invents musical instruments. And, we do not talk of working music but of playing music. Or, dancing. Music lends itself to group play; to bands; orchestras and choirs. And, such can be found in Old and New Testament writings. Abraham and Sarai were once spotted “sporting” or enjoying some level of flirting, or sexual play. Miriam danced and sang once she had crossed the Red Sea and found herself safe on the other side – opposite her Egyptians oppressors. All these instances of play give secondary support to the idea that God plays, or can play. That is why we Christians believe we see shadows of the nature of God in creation; assuming that the Artist’s creation reveals something of the artist.

I have often wondered about the angel’s greeting to Gideon. Gideon, like the rest of Israel, was hiding in fear from the Medians. He was hidden in a wine press winnowing his wheat harvest, hoping to get his work done without his enemies noticing. For, had they seen, they would have raided him and stolen his harvest. The angel found him in these embarrassing circumstances and said to him, “Hail! Oh, man of valor.” Seems to me, Gabriel is using irony as a comic device, to get the man’s attention.

James Martin, S. J., insists that several of Jesus’s statements were originally humorous. He points out how humor has a difficult time transcending cultures and history – so statements like the hypocrisy of judging someone with a speck in your eye while you have a plank in your own do not have the punch today as it did in Jesus’ time. But, he is convinced it came across as a good, relevant joke on the stage where Jesus offered it. Fr. Martin believes Jesus told funny stories. It is disturbing that those who would take offense at this question, “Does God play?”, have no trouble describing God as angry.

When I asked my wife this question she did not hesitate to relate an epiphany she had in real time.
Her Uncle Buddy was a delight to her. He was funny, easy to approach, very safe and protective towards his younger relatives, but a troubling and carnal thorn in the side of his very religious wife. Joy’s family was very devout – mostly Pentecostal. Uncle Buddy’s wife loved him but fussed over his taste for cold beer and his, not infrequent, colorful metaphors and salty language. She regularly made public requests for prayers for his soul. She was convinced she’d spend her heaven alone, fretting over his salvation, or lack thereof.

Years ago, when Joy was a mother with two young daughters, she was in emotional pain over a difficult decision. She decided to get away for a few hours and collect her thoughts. Thinking was painful and she felt if she could find a little open road and go somewhere she was not known that maybe it would help her find some peace. So, she drove south of Jacksonville towards Orange Park, Florida. She was feeling heart-broken and abandoned. She was raised to be a missionary. After nearly 20 years in inner city work her unfaithful husband, who pastored the church with her, left her no options. She thought she knew no one who lived or worked in Orange Park.

She was praying and asking God for a touch of heaven. Something to assure her that her fears were unfounded and that God would not let her down. She decided to pull into a parking lot of The Orange Park Mall, thinking she would just walk around aimlessly, hoping to clear her mind. As soon as her car door slammed behind her she noticed a security golf cart coming towards her.

It was coming straight for her. She moved so it wouldn’t run into her. When she moved, the driver turned also and so she began to feel like a target. She did this a couple of times more and the golf cart kept turning and moving straight toward her. Soon, it stopped and out stepped her Uncle Buddy, with his unique humor, he was waving his hand and calling out a huge, “Is that Joy, one of my favorite nieces?” It was an instant expression of love and attachment and it made her feel noticed, visible and loved. It was an answer to the very prayer she was praying as she cried in her car, a moment before.

When the golf cart came to a halt beside her, Uncle Buddy was alarmed that his favorite niece was crying. When she told him that he was like the presence of God to her, giving her the very grace she was crying for, he laughed and laughed. “How can that be? Your Aunt Marie will think you’re crazy for calling a hell-bent sinner like me something like that.” After a brief pause, he begged her to call his wife and let her know that all her worry was for nothing; that he was, in fact, walking in the very presence of God. He thought that her wonderful words were one “hell of a note,” and he’d be “damned” if it didn’t just make him feel like shouting.

Aunt Marie did not have an easy time accepting that her prayers had been answered without the normal revival-tent or altar-call rituals that Pentecostals in the South expect. But, Joy can be very persuasive. It is impossible to doubt her sincerity. She was convinced God came through for her; and for Buddy. And, in a very playful manner.


Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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