Editor’s Note: this blog is an excerpt from Delight!–Discipleship as the Adventure of Loving and Being Loved by Justin Rossow, scheduled to be published by Next Step Press in the fall of 2020. If you would like to receive an email when Delight! is available, please join the Next Step Press email list.
By Justin Rossow
God delights in your work. God delights in your rest. A third experience somewhere between work and rest also puts a smile on God’s face. Play is a kind of active engagement (like work) that results in rejuvenation and refreshment (like rest). From the beginning of creation to the restoration of creation, your God delights in play.
We met a kind of Playful Delight back in Chapter 3. The Hebrew word Sha’a’ can refer to anything that makes you go, “Whee!!” Psalm 119 describes the fun we have exploring God’s Word as sha’a’, but that’s not the only place we see Playful Delight in the story of Scripture.
שָׁעַע (Sha’a’): sport, take delight in, play
You remember the opening of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” John says, Jesus is the Word made flesh who took up residence among us. The passage is clear: Jesus, as the Word, was present even from before the very beginning of creation. As God spoke the universe into existence, the Word was right there, actively participating:
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:3, NIV)
Jesus, as God’s active Word, has been actively at work from the very beginning. Paul would later write:
By him [Jesus] all things were created,
in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created
through him and for him.
And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
Jesus was present and active from the beginning of creation. And that’s where the fun begins! In the last chapter, we already saw how one way of reading the hymn in Revelation 4 gets at the salsa party of creation:
“Thou art worthy, O Lord,
to receive glory and honour and power:
for thou hast created all things,
and for thy pleasure (thélēma) they are
and were created.
(Revelation 4:11, KJV)
One reason I think the King James gets this verse right is because of a similar passage in the Old Testament Wisdom book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a collection of wise saying from the perspective of someone who knows and fears God (and also knows the ways of the world).
One of the key features of the book of Proverbs is the personification of God’s Wisdom. It’s not entirely clear all the time how poetic the language is, or how we are supposed to relate God’s Wisdom to God, or to God’s Spirit, or to God’s Word, but Proverbs says enough about this character of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 to make the connection to Jesus. In fact, the apostle Paul can even call Jesus, “the power of God and the Wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
So don’t substitute “Jesus” every time you see the word “wisdom” in your Bible, but hold Proverbs 8 together with John 1 and Colossians 1, and it’s difficult not to see Jesus at work (and at play) from the dawn of creation.
When he established the heavens,
I [Wisdom] was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not
transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight (sha’a’),
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting (sha’a’) in the children of man.
(Proverbs 8:27–31, ESV)
The Maker of Heaven and Earth is experiencing Playful Delight in this personification of Wisdom; the Father is delighting in the only begotten Son. And Wisdom is rejoicing (a new playful delight word in Hebrew) in the presence of the Father. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Wisdom is rejoicing (taking playful delight) in the inhabitants of creation (cue the salsa music) and even knows the Playful Delight of spending time with Adam and Eve.
I just love the thought of the Second Person of the Trinity throwing a party in the Garden of Eden. What a playful delight!
The same “rejoicing with playful delight” vocabulary word shows up again in the Old Testament. This time, however, the promise of the New Creation is in view. As Zechariah images the restoration of Jerusalem and of the whole world at the coming of the Day of Yahweh, this detail makes me want to throw back my head and sing for joy:
This is what the Lord says:
“I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem.
Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty
will be called the Holy Mountain.
The city streets will be filled
with boys and girls playing there.”
(Zechariah 8:3, 5, NIV)
One mark of the restoration of creation: boys and girls will be laughing and playing and just plain having fun. “There’ll be dancin’; dancin’ in the street!” Rejoicing with playful delight is the new status quo of the New Creation.
I think God had fun in the process of creation. I think Jesus had fun with his disciples. I think the Spirit thought Pentecost was just plain awesome.
You serve a God who made the blue whale as well as the platypus. You have a Savior who turned gallons and gallons and gallons of water designed for following strict religious rules into more of the best wine than could be drunk in a month full of weddings. You have received the Spirit who wouldn’t let Paul go into the Roman province of Asia just so he could meet a woman from the Roman province of Asia, and then opened Lydia’s heart the message of salvation.
Play, like rest, is an act of trust, trust that God is in control and your ongoing work is not necessary to keep the planet spinning. God likes play. God created play. God loves it when you play, in part because you can’t be worried about everything else if you are enjoying God’s good gifts with delight.
As a human being, you were created in the image of God. You therefore have a calling to image God to the rest of creation. You certainly do that in your work and labor, as a steward of God’s creation; and you also image God in your play, as you delight in God’s creation.
When you receive them with delight, and in dependence on Jesus, your rest, your work, and your play all move you into deeper relationship with God, your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And that makes God rejoice with playful delight!
If you would like to explore some more of the Delight! book, see The Adventure of Discipleship blog and Season 2, Episode 3B of the Next Step Podcast, Joyful Delight, where the author reads the introduction and opening chapter of the book.