CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Divine Last Laugh

Jul 28, 2013

When believers think about God’s attitude toward sinners, they will automatically and correctly think along these lines: God loves sinners and wants them to forsake their sin and come back into a love relationship with him. Yes God indeed does love us and seeks to win us back to himself.

But that is not the only way in which God regards and relates to sinners. While he patiently and mercifully extends offers of pardon, these offers of grace and mercy will not extend forever. We know of course that his just judgment and wrath will be poured out on those who continue to shake their fist at him.

The book of Revelation alone is conclusive proof of this. But it is not just at the end of human history that we see God displaying his holy disdain for those who refuse to bow the knee and recognise who is the creator and who is the creature.

We find passages throughout Scripture which speak of God’s displeasure of and contempt for the unrepentant wicked. He not only looks upon them with derision; he in fact laughs at them. Yes, laughs – although few believers would even countenance such a possibility.

Indeed, I recently had an earnest believer challenge me, claiming God would never laugh at people. I assured him that God most certainly does. If we just limit ourselves to the wisdom literature we find some revealing passages here. Consider Psalm 2. Verses 1-4 say this:

Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.

This is a royal or messianic psalm, and Spurgeon rightly said that in vv 1-3 we have “a description of the hatred of human nature against the Christ of God”. Although the nations may rage against the Lord’s anointed, it is God who has the last laugh. As James Montgomery Boice remarks:

“What is God’s reaction to the haughty words of these pygmy human rulers? God does not tremble…. He simply laughs at these great imbeciles. . . . It is a laugh of derision, as the next verb shows: ‘the Lord scoffs at them’ (v. 4). This is what human attempts to throw off the rule of the sovereign God deserve. It is understandable that sinners should want to reject God’s rule. That is what sin is: a repudiation of God’s rule in favour of our own will. But although it is understandable, the folly of this attempt surpasses belief. How can mere human beings expect to get rid of God?”

Willem VanGemeren comments, “Above the turbulence of the nations, God sits and reacts to their rebellion against him with laughter. His laughter is an expression of ridicule, for he knows their end.” And this is not the only Psalm which speaks in these terms. We also have Psalm 37:12-13:

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.

If those two are not convincing you yet, let’s try another. In Psalm 59:7-8 we read these words:

See what they spew from their mouths—
the words from their lips are sharp as swords,
and they think, “Who can hear us?”
But you laugh at them, LORD;
you scoff at all those nations.

Or what about Proverbs 1:24-27?

But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

‘OK, OK’ my critic will concede, ‘so he does laugh at people. But that is only for God to do – surely we are never to laugh at the wicked’. Um, wrong again. Not only do we have examples of the godly doing just this (think of Elijah mocking and making fun of the false prophets), but we even have biblical texts which speak to this very issue. Consider Psalm 52:5-7:

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at you, saying,
“Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
and grew strong by destroying others!”

There is no hint here that sharing in God’s perspective on the wicked is something his people just cannot do. We are told here this is a natural and acceptable response to those who shake their fist at God and refuse his overtures of love. Boice is again worth citing here:

“It is the lesson drawn from God’s judgment that keeps the laughter of the righteous from being what we would call mere selfish delight at the fall of some mighty enemy. This is not mockery at another person’s misfortune. It is satisfaction at the rightness of things when God intervenes to judge those who have done great harm to others.”

The true people of God are those who are after his own heart: they weep at what God weeps at, and rejoice in what God rejoices in – even laughs. They too weep for the lost, but they too rejoice when God’s justice is displayed and those who arrogantly mock and reject God finally get what they deserve.

So of course we pray for the lost, we seek the lost, and we weep for the lost. But there is also a place to rejoice when God executes judgment, as we find in places like Revelation 18:20: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”

Seeing his justice performed is something to cheer the saints, just as seeing the wicked reject God is something that should break their hearts. But God has made full provision for the salvation of sinners. He did everything he possibly could in dying in their place at Calvary 2000 years ago.

Sinners – that is, every single one of us – can either embrace and accept that provision through faith and repentance, or can continue to shake the fist at him. But the whole gamut of God’s responses is fully acceptable: whether merciful wooing love, or just judgment and the outpouring of his wrath.

Believers can and should rejoice in both.

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6 Responses to The Divine Last Laugh

  • Good on you Bill, for plainly telling us how it is. God will laugh at us and will not support us in our Sins for ever and a day. There must be a day of reckoning for each of us. We just cannot continue in our Sins and expect God of all people to turn a blind eye to our works of darkness. There will come the day in which we will force him to act and pour out his judgments upon us if we will not repent of our Sins.
    Leigh D Stebbins

  • Several times I have pondered how I would have responded to Gillard’s missoggyknee speech (I don’t know how to spell ‘mysogynist’). It would have been using the words of Solomon about nagging wives, dripping taps, deserts and corners of rooftops. But after the fun I would have turned it back on her as the greater misogynist with her policies of death, where half those that die in the abortion clinics she supports are girls, where the support of gay rights demonstrates a hatred of people by seeking to normalise sin.

    John Churchward

  • Another really good one Bill.
    Again, I could never get it into words, but I know what I meant. I don’t laugh at the unjust who do unjust things to the needy, I rejoice when they are caught though.
    And laugh.
    Daniel Kempton

  • But the badness that evil people cause to others might make us wary of derision. I’m thinking of the powerful homosexualist organisations, whose victims are those led astray into that badness – they may not be entirely innocent, but the fullest guilt belongs to those that promote and exploit their tendencies.
    John Thomas, UK

  • The problem with today’s society is that so many no longer believe in sin which leaves them free to do what they like not what God wills for those who recognize sin for what it really is.
    No one knows when they will depart from this earth and so we must be ready for that day. Good and faithful servant sound much better than “depart from me your cursed into everlasting fire”.
    Let us hope and pray that those young people who were in Rio for WYD take on board what Pope Francis actually said to them – go out and preach the Gospel to all nations.

  • I guess like all biblical subjects, this one is also balanced by the verse, I can’t remember where it is “God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked”.
    But you are right. Having given His own life to restore us back to fellowship with Him, what else can He do? If people reject the way of salvation so patiently, freely and frequently offered them they can hardly expect God to respond any other way except to rejoice in the preservation of those who would respond and humble themselves and restoration of everything else that is good.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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