The God of Play

By Mark D. Roberts

April 13, 2018

There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

Psalm 104:26


Many people think of God as dour, somber, and stern. God is up in heaven, peering down on us with a scowl. And that divine scowl gets worse if we’re having fun. Human beings, from the perspective of the severe God, are supposed to work hard, spend lots of time in church, and otherwise be serious about life. But we’re certainly not supposed to enjoy life, celebrate, or, God forbid, play!

A whale doing a back flip along the surface of the ocean.Then there’s Psalm 104 and its vision of a God who creates playfulness. This psalm celebrates God the Creator who made all things. Verse 24 sums up the main theme of this psalm: “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

The following verses focus on God as the one who made all things in the ocean, including sea animals and ships. The last part of verse 26 adds a curious detail, referring to “Leviathan, which you formed to frolic [in the sea].” Leviathan was a mythic creature, perhaps based on a whale or dolphin. According to the NIV translation of the psalm, God made this creature “to frolic.” The Hebrew verb translated as “frolic” is closely related to a word for laughter. It can be translated as “make sport, jest, play, revel, dance.” This verb shows up in one of Zechariah’s visions of the future kingdom of God: “The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there” (8:5).

So, according to Psalm 104, God made Leviathan to play, not just to swim and eat and sleep, but to frolic. What a delightful thought!

I’m reminded of a time several years ago. I was visiting a friend who had a house on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. As I gazed at the sea, all of a sudden, a massive gray whale shot out of the water, blowing spray into the air. Seconds later, another whale surfaced, leaping almost completely into the air. These two gray whales continued to frolic for several minutes, much to my wonderment. They were having such fun, and so was I as I watched them.

Yes, God created the world to be productive. He created us in his image, calling us to be fruitful and multiply, to work so that the world might be filled. Work stands at the center of our purpose for living. But God also created play. He made us with the capacity to jest, to dance, to laugh. The example of Leviathan encourages us to enjoy life, to do things that are not necessarily productive in the ordinary sense, though they are productive of delight, health, and community. Our playfulness reflects the creative intentions of our playful God.

Something to Think About:

What do you think of play?

Do you consider play as part of God’s design for creation? Why or why not?

What playful activities do you enjoy?

Something to Do:

In the next couple of days, do something fun, something playful. Try to sense God’s delight in your enjoyment. Thank God for the gift of play.


Gracious God, how I thank you for the reminders of Psalm 104. The beauty and intricacy of creation reflect your brilliance and power. How blessed I am to enjoy your good gifts!

Thank you for the example of Leviathan. Thank you for creating Leviathan to frolic in the sea. What a stirring reminder of your intentions for us. Yes, we are to work. Yes, we are to rest. Yes, we are to live our lives in worship to you. But we are also to play, to enjoy the beauty and freedom and delight of life.

Help me, Lord, to play more often. Help me to play in a way that honors you. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Human creativity with God (Psalm 104)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn