C.S. Lewis & the Playful God

January 10, 2023 — 11 Comments

When my grandchildren were younger, we played a game where everything would be “normal” and I would without warning say “you don’t need to be afraid of me, because I’m not…” [transformational pause, followed with a growl] “… an ogre!”

The kids would squeal and hightail it for cover where they were safe while I briefly lumbered about for a moment. It was much fun, and if Jesus tarries, perhaps I’ll play a similar game with their children.

I recently read an interesting article about Martin Luther’s understanding of God’s playfulness. You can read the entire article here: “Deus Ludens: God at Play in Luther’s Theology.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Luther knows a kind of unstructured play, especially between parents and children, that may involve . . . a kind of pretending which then gives way to the revelation of reality.

C.S. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor when he was surprised by encountering Joy, who would become his wife. He did a commendable job as a stepfather after her death, but wasn’t well equipped for the job.

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis confessed “I myself do not enjoy the society of small children . . . I recognize this as a defect in myself.” Yet he did enjoy other forms of play – of the mental and imaginary varieties – that many young people also savor.

One pastor encourages us to apply Lewis’ observation to ourselves.

Do you recognize that an inability to enjoy children is not representative of a defect in the children, but of a defect in us? I hope that you do. And if not, I hope that you will.

In “C.S. Lewis on Pretending,” the author touches on this theme. After quoting the following passage from Mere Christianity, he writes, “Lewis is drawing out two key elements of change. The role of imagination in faith. The necessity of visionary faith for change.”

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups – playing soldiers, playing shop.

But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them grow up in earnest.”

Poet Malcolm Guite challenges (accurately, in my opinion) Lewis’ self-diagnosed disconnect from children.

That Lewis could write immortal children’s tales in late middle age, and weave into those tales such truth and vision that the children who first read them at 8 or 9 keep returning to them in adult life and finding more and more, is a sign that he retained to the end, ‘the child within,’ to borrow George Macdonald’s phrase. And yet in those very stories he provides for both children and grown-ups some very searching truths about what it is both to be a child and to grow up.

Other Christians have identified with Lewis’ challenge. One pastor repeated Lewis’ words about his “defect,” admitted he felt similarly, and responded:

Do you recognize that an inability to enjoy children is not representative of a defect in the children, but of a defect in us? I hope that you do. And if not, I hope that you will.

Because children, just like the poor, offer us another unique opportunity to see what it means to live inside God’s kingdom.

Like it or not, children are going to be who they are. With zero nuance or subtlety, they are going to be consistent – the authentic version of themselves – in every situation.

Ironically, despite his supposed handicap, C.S. Lewis directly blessed more children than it would be possible to number. The follow article, “A Playful Romp with God,” reveals an excellent example of his accomplishment.

The first time I encountered this scene – as an adult, reading the Narnia books to my own kids – I cried. The possibility that God might laugh, romp, and play with his children stopped me in my tracks. How could such a scandalous thing be true?

Growing up, I never heard a word about God laughing, joking, or doing anything for fun. No one invited me to imagine the Jesus of the Gospels smiling, much less goofing around with his disciples, playing hide-and-seek with the children who flocked to him, or basking in the sunshine on a gorgeous summer day.

The list of characteristics I associated with God – omniscience, holiness, transcendence, righteousness – did not include playfulness.

The writer of these words is not alone. Too many people have been raised with the image of a stern, humorless Christ. That’s one of the reasons I am so pleased with the new series, “The Chosen.”

While they may carry the image of Jesus’ playfulness a bit too far – who can say – it is a truly refreshing and convincing portrayal of the Lamb who came to lay down his life as a sacrifice for each of us.

C.S. Lewis portrays this aspect of God brilliantly in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. After his resurrection, Aslan reveals himself first to Susan and Lucy. And, rather than rush off to prepare Narnia for the approaching battle with the Witch . . . he plays.

“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table.

Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.

It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty.

Do we have a playful God? If you still think not, you have my sympathy, my prayers, and my encouragement to read this helpful article, “The Role of Laughter in the Christian Life,” written by the author of Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis.

11 responses to C.S. Lewis & the Playful God

  1. 

    Another really wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. 

    Love these thoughts. When I was a child, C.S. Lewis was my favorite author. Even though I was an atheist, I absolutely loved the Chronicles of Narnia series. Now as a Christian adult, I have found so much depth in the Narnia books. I’m currently reading Mere Christianity with my 15 year old son.

    • 

      That’s wonderful, Kim. I’m delighted that C.S. Lewis can speak so eloquently to non-Christians. And, one of the reasons why “the heathen rage” against him, is his effectiveness in bringing light into the darkness.

      Enjoyed watching your story on youtube.

  3. 

    Delightful! One can/must change one’s superior attitude toward children – with 6 playful grandsons I know that from personal experience. As important, it does change our attitude toward God… thanks Rob.

    • 

      Good point. I noted your comment about the boys on your website. Even though rugby’s rare on this continent, I can still relate to your sentiment!

      My prayer has always been that my children, and now my grandchildren, grow up to be better people than I am.

  4. 

    Rob,

    Amen, yes, and a sense of humor. Lots of forgiveness and love.

    Thanks, Gary

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