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Make Believe Makes Believers

My son plays happily. He flits easily between two worlds: the world that is and the world he imagines. His conversation assumes the extraordinary. His play is an adventure in make believe.

How like faith.

Perhaps nothing is more like faith than play. This “admission” would no doubt make Christians raised in an era of apologetic zeal begin to sweat. It may also delight anti-theist scolds, those champions of unhappiness and pretense.

But it is no great surrender to say faith is like play. If in a young boy’s imaginative play he sees himself brave and trustworthy in the good fight, then we are glad if he grows into a man who is like that in “the real world.” Likewise, if a little girl tenderly cares for a baby doll, devoting herself to its care while at play, then grows up to become a loving, tender mother, we are happy. And we should be. I call that good.

So child’s play is braided into the lifelong chords of faith. Part of life is anticipating, by faith, the right-side-up world. And it is deadly difficulty when it feels like the ceiling’s coming down all around us.

Part of the Christian life, perhaps the heart of it, is praying “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is holy imagination at work. This is a life of imaginative anticipation. Faith is play. It is playing at the most deeply true articles of the human charter.

Imagination is an essential capacity of faith.

Does our conversation assume the extraordinary? If it doesn’t, can we be Christians?

Jesus told us that children show us the way to the Kingdom. I believe he meant to commend both their lack of personal standing (they cannot cling to accomplishment as merit) and their capacity for deep dependence.

Children are suited for the Kingdom in their imaginative play. “Make believe” is one of the clearest avenues along the way to making us believers.

So, let them play. And join them.


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