Taking God seriously while not taking ourselves too seriously:
My title might seem to be an odd topic, but a recent post of mine on the social media managed to provoke a bit of a reaction and discussion, and perhaps some misunderstanding and confusion as well. In brief, I had said that we have no record in the Gospels of Christ ever laughing. And that happens to be true.
But various folks came along and seemed to think I was condemning all laughter. Or they said things like: ‘Yeah, but God laughed, and Jesus is God.’ Or they thought I and the person I was quoting from might be heading way off into left field. So there ended up being two minor battle fronts that needed to be dealt with: one, whether Jesus laughed, and two, whether God the Father laughs.
While I am not meaning to unnecessarily belabour all this, it still might be worth revisiting this matter briefly. My post was taken from a recent article I had penned looking at Matthew 5:4 where Jesus had said “Blessed are those who mourn.” You can see that piece here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/04/26/we-must-keep-in-mind-the-paradoxes-of-christianity/
And I made use of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ chapter on this verse in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the things I had quoted from his book was this:
A Christian is one who is to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. He is `the firstborn among many brethren’; that is the ultimate standard of what you and I are to be like. Very well; let us look at Him. What do we find? One thing we observe is that we have no record anywhere that He ever laughed. We are told He was angry; we are told that He suffered from hunger and thirst; but there is actually no record of laughter in His life….
I guess I should have gone on and quoted the rest of the paragraph. It reads:
I know an argument from silence can be a dangerous one, and yet we must pay due attention to that fact. We remember the prophecy concerning Him in the book of the prophet Isaiah, where we are told He was to be a ‘man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’, that His visage would be so marred that none would desire Him. That is the prophecy concerning Him, and as you look at these accounts of Him in the New Testament Gospels you will see that the prophecy was literally fulfilled. There is an indication in John viii. 57, that our Lord looked very much older than He actually was. You remember He had said, ‘Abraham rejoiced to see my day’ and they looked at Him and said, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?’ This was spoken to one just over thirty, and I tend to agree with the interpreters who argue from this statement that our Lord looked much older than He really was. There is, then, no record of laughter in His life. But we are told that He wept at the grave of Lazarus (Jn. xi. 35). That was not because His friend was dead, because He had gone to raise Him from the dead. He knew that in a moment Lazarus was going to live again. No, it is something very different, something we are going to consider together. We are told also that He wept over Jerusalem as He looked at the city just before the end (see Lk. xix. 41-44). That is the picture which you find as you look at our Lord in these Gospels, and we are meant to be like Him. Compare it, not only with the world, but also with this assumed brightness and joviality which so many Christians seem to think is the right portrait of the Christian. I think you will see at once the amazing and striking contrast. There is nothing of that in our Lord.
So yes, there is a case to be made here, and yes, he is aware of not going too far with an argument from silence. And he did go on to say – as I mentioned in my earlier article – that we must guard against a “false puritanism” and so on. So he is no kill joy, and neither he nor I said a word about Christians not being allowed to laugh, to relax, to have some fun, to have hobbies and sports, and so on.
Our point was simply the point that Jesus had made: joyful are the mourners. And we both noted many passages by others in the New Testament, such as the calls by Paul and Peter for believers to be sober-minded and the like. So there are sound biblical teachings here about the need for us to not be overly giddy, silly, jocular and flippant. A saintly seriousness is in order.
As to the charges that various people made about God laughing, well, yes and no. It is not hard to dig those texts out. And there happen to be only four of them. Let me list each one for you, and in context:
Psalm 2:4-6 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
Psalm 37:12-13 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
Psalm 59:7-8 There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
But you, O Lord, laugh at them;
you hold all the nations in derision.
Proverbs 1:24-27 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
As can be seen, all of these texts have to do with God mocking, scoffing and deriding the wicked. None of them have anything to do with God joking and goofing around, being humorous and frivolous, being jocular, and so on. Again, that is not to say that God never laughs in this less serious sense, but only that we have no record of it in Scripture.
Still, a number of folks kept raising this and similar points. For example, one person said this: “Does God laugh? Yes – because we laugh, and we are made in His image.” I am not sure how far we can go with an argument like that however. We also drive cars, eat pizza, and have constipation. Because we are made in God’s image, does that mean he does those things as well?
But again, YES, the Christian certainly can laugh and have fun. And I do this often. Because I deal with so many heavy duty things in my ministry, I sometimes like to briefly chill, use a bit of humour and so on. It might just mean posting a Grumpy Cat meme, or doing a humorous post on book collecting on the social media, and so on.
It is always good that we do not take ourselves too seriously. But we should take God very seriously, as well as the broken and needy world that we live in. So by all means, enjoy some jokes, some laughter, some gaiety. Just do not let it be all that characterises your life as a believer.
So to recapitulate and repeat, my point and MLJ’s point was simply this: Christians can most certainly laugh and be joyous, but a life of silliness and goofing around should not be what we are known for. That is all we were seeking to say, but it did seem to stir up a bit of controversy.
As to whether or not the above has finally explained things sufficiently remains to be seen I guess!