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A theology of fun

Laughter is unique to human beings. Hyenas don’t really laugh, it just sounds like it. Dolphins, otters, and our dogs and cats enjoy play and make us laugh but they don’t get any of our jokes. So why do human beings make that sound? Why do we find somethings fun and/or funny?

Most traits can be connected to some survival need. But laughter? Where did that come from? It doesn’t help us hunt, reproduce, defend, or anything beneficial. So why do we laugh?

My answer comes from my basic understanding of who we are. In the Creation story we read this: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’… So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV). You and I laugh because we were created in the image of God and God has a sense of humor.

This week our congregation is having what we call “Family Fun Week” where every night we do something just for the fun of it. Some might wonder why a church group would organize events with no real agenda. Shouldn’t we do something spiritual like have a prayer, Bible study, or use the time for evangelism every time we get together? While we are not doing those things, I believe we are doing something spiritual. Our fun was an act of worship.

What I call my “theology of fun” goes something like this. God made the world including us. God liked what He created, calling it “good.” God, our heavenly Parent, derives pleasure watching us enjoy what He has given us. Therefore when we are having fun – without hurting ourselves, others, or anything else – we are worshipping. 1 Timothy 6:17 supports this when we read that God “richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (NRSV). Psalm 37 offers support as well when we read that “Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way” (Psalm 37:23 NRSV). Christian runner Eric Liddell, whom the movie Chariots of Fire is about, said it this way in the movie, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.” I think I get that ”“ not when I run, I hate running ”“ but when I’m doing something I love, I think God smiles.

From time to time, I get this image of Jesus smiling as he watches us enjoy one another’s company. I know how much joy I get watching my children have fun. I imagine our Heavenly Father feels the same way.

God isn’t just the God of the serious, the spiritual, and the somber. God is also our God when we’re just goofing off and having a good time. I think God likes Family Fun Week and any other time we get to play together. In fact, I think it is an act of worship as we celebrate the image of God alive in each of us.

When has a fun time helped draw you closer to a friend and/or to God?


  1. Bruce Leiter
    Bruce Leiter November 1, 2013

    I agree that our fun can be an act of worship. In fact, I’m in the process of writing a devotional Bible study Pray and Play. I believe that our play and fun can be either God-centered or self-centered. All that you say is true, but our culture’s emphasis on fun is largely secular, self-centered. I know because before I became a Christian at 16 years old, my fun and sports were strictly for selfish pleasure and remained so until I became a pastor. I preached a series of messages on God’s biblical principles for leisure time, and God convicted me that my sports and TV were sinful, self-centered activities. I had two choices after I preached on 1 Corinthians 10:31 (Do everything to honor God), either throw it all out or find some way to honor God with it. As I began to praise God for sports (his creation of the amazing human body) while I watched, he set me free from its control over me. The result was that he took my attention off of myself and the pleasure I was getting out of it and re-focused my fun on him. After all, God did inspire Paul to command us, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” even while he was under house arrest in Rome (Philippians 4:4). I would be interested in a dialogue. Rerired pastor Bruce Leiter the Writer.

    • Joe
      Joe November 2, 2013

      You have hit on a good piece here. There is a place where we can overindulge in play and leisure by making it a self-centered showcase, or in the words of John Wesley, “trifle away time,” which he warned his preachers not to do. On the other hand, I think we can also overindulge in work – even pastoral work. The creation story teaches us a rhythm that even God followed. There are times of work followed by times of rest. I think we are at our optimum when we learn to balance those two.

  2. Bruce Leiter
    Bruce Leiter November 2, 2013

    You make a good point that there has to be a good biblical balance between play and work. I believe the point of passages like Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 is that our motive must be to honor God intentionally with our pleasurable and work activities. The motive is the key unless it’s a clearly sinful activity. Do we do ministry or other “religious” activities for him or for our own selfish satisfaction? The same thing applies to pleasurable actions. How much is our focus on the 3-in-1 God of the Bible, and how much on what we get out of those pursuits? We fallen humans have replaced God in our lives with self, things, and other people as the sources of security and meaning instead of the true God of the Bible. The challenge that God’s Word has for us as believers in him is to more and more put God at the center of our work and fun. In Jesus’ grace, Bruce Leiter.

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