As a professor, father, and pastor Erik Thoennes takes recreation seriously, something he calls “The Gospel at play.” While the masses generally consider the Gospel a very serious thing, Erik gives a solid argument on how play is infused into God’s Word.
Currently serving at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, Erik is somewhat of an expert on the subject, after publishing an essay on Christian theology of sport and the concept of play. While he certainly agrees we must take God seriously, the downside is that we seldom leave room for a spirit of restfulness and playfulness, or an approach to life that isn’t burdened.
“A Sabbath infused into our lives needs to be a hallmark of the Christian,” says Erik. “In a schedule, there should be recreation, rest, places for naps and games. But we should think of it in an integrated life so that we don’t just rest on the weekends or when we can carve out time for it. There should even be a restfulness when we’re hard at work, when life is really difficult.”
The concept of finding rest and playfulness in times of pain is a funnel toward hope. Leaning on the example from the 1960’s book, The Theology of Play by Jürgen Moltmann, the author questioned how a life of playfulness is possible when people are dying in Vietnam. His answer always came back to hope and advancing the Gospel with all our might.
Yet too common is sacrificing all that is rejuvenating and leisurely to make room for that which is not. As Erik explains, this habit contradicts the Bible which is constantly trying to encourage us to live our daily lives in light of how it all is going to end.
“The judgment day comes with the complete consummation and restoration of all things,” he says, “—and a profound confidence and restfulness even in the midst of a lot of activity. It takes great wisdom to attain the balance between a life that has a lightheartedness—because Jesus is going to make it all right one day—but also a sober, circumspect, that’s not trivial or flippant.”
Balancing our calling as serious Christians with our complete trust in God is no easy task. There’s an ministerial pulling to be well-informed, theologically-driven, and fully immersed in the Word, while ultimately leaving it all in the hands of God. This learned discipline requires working hard for six days so that a Sabbath can truly be what it was meant to be.
The Bible describes sleep as something that the righteous are capable of achieving at a depth that others cannot. Even David, for example, could sleep in the midst of being hunted by Saul.
“If we believe God’s got our lives in his hands, we can sleep soundly,” explains Erik.
In comparing the past with the present, there’s a generational misconception that “work” and “play” are polar opposites, when in fact, there is goodness in work that God created.
“He told us to rule over and subdue, be fruitful and multiply, steward creation as his co-creators along with him,” Erik says. “Work is a good thing. Yes, it’s got thorns and thistles, sweat of the brow, post curse and fall, but there’s a goodness to it that endures.”
Only when we view work as a gift from God, can we find rest and play in the Sabbath. In fact, Erik believes that work will exist in heaven, rather than just being something that ends in eternity.
He says, “The Protestant work ethic is one of the great forgotten doctrines of the Reformation. It doesn’t mean we just work hard. It means we see everything as the work of the Lord. There will come a day where our lives aren’t marked by self-control, but by a kind of release of worship and joy and playfulness. It’s not utilitarian. It’s not pragmatic. It’s not results oriented. It’s exuberant, expressive, joy, and worship.”