Recreation or Play?
“I am just living for my next _______.”
How would you finish that sentence? My next….. Day off? Night out? Vacation? Trip to the lake? There are a lot of people who don’t enjoy their work, but live for the weekend. There is no doubt that some people have more enjoyable jobs than others. And, some people’s primary work is not their job. They may be a caretaker for an elderly parent or a parent with little ones at home. But, there is a big difference between not always enjoying your work and LIVING for another chance to play.
The Bible speaks pretty negatively about a group of people who had the opportunity to play full time. When the people of Israel were away from Moses at Sinai, Scripture says “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exod 32:6). Why was that a bad thing? Well, God didn’t create us to play full time. He gave work, responsibility, and a calling to use six days in some productive way to care for ourselves, our families, and be a light in the world (Gen 1:27–28; 2:15, 18; Deut 5:13; Matt 5:14). The people of Israel, though, ignored responsibilities around them in order to play.
Living to play is a very different thing than playing to live. It gets down to a distinction that Christian theologians have been making for a long time: the difference between recreation and play. (I recently read it again in Senator Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult in which he made an appeal for adults to actually grow up.) What’s the difference? Aren’t recreation and play just synonyms, two ways of referring to the same thing?
It depends. Recreation is just that re-creation. It is using leisure time to rest, recover, and revitalize yourself so that you can re-engage with life and your responsibilities with energy. Play, on the other hand, is often the goal itself. People don’t want to recuperate so that they can be responsible; they want to ESCAPE. They want to “eat and drink and rise up to play.” Let’s not forget that the Israelites pursuit of pleasure led to them setting up a new and different god, the golden calf.
That’s the problem with play. It grows. We can reach a point where we ask our play to fulfill us and give us joy. It can become what we LIVE for.
But the Christian lives for something more. Second Corinthians says, “For the love of Christ controls us… he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:14–15).
Whereas living for play is selfish, we are led by love and we live through Christ and for him.