When David and I were “just friends” but liked each other, we would have interesting email conversations about articles we were reading. One of the links David wanted my opinion on was a review of “The Shack”. The reviewer’s main distaste for the book was that Jesus was too full of chuckles. He “laughed, chortled and chuckled” his way through the book, to the point that the reviewer felt the author of The Shack equated holiness with laughter, and that was not okay. Apparently the early church fathers saw laughter as demonic and exhibiting a lack of sobriety, and not as evidence of a loving God (as Young does) and maybe that was better. The reviewer pointed out
“We learn about God’s love for the world and are able to love him in return by grasping the fact that the incarnation of His Son had serious consequences for Jesus as well as for us. He assumed our flesh so we could be restored to our own good selves, but in taking into his divine person our human nature and sharing it with his own, he became a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. For us, restoration entailed reconciliation with God; but for Jesus it entailed death on a Roman gibbet.”
What compels us towards Jesus his his ability to share our suffering. We read of Jesus weeping in the Bible, but we never read of him laughing. If Jesus the Son of God could feel the full depth of the pain of all of the people he came into contact with, if his heart was torn by Mary and Martha’s mourning, and if he suffered through the full weight of sin, if Jesus knew how good the world could be and came face to face with how horrible it was, if even his closest friends, his disciples, didn’t seem to get it– the picture of a laughing Jesus seems not only irreverent, but frankly highly unlikely.
Or maybe I think that because that’s how I feel sometimes. If I get overwhelmed and heart broken at the world falling to bits around me all the time: empty people caring about themselves and not others, people stuck in their own narrow little world, children suffering abuse right down the road, friends walking through family conflict and struggles, not to mention the way people are just so set on killing each other all over the world… and I am just one small person with a finite ability to feel the pain of others… what would it have been like to be Jesus?
I think this reviewer (and a lot of self-absorbed hipster-types that I ran into in college who were trying to get away from Mr. Happy-clappy Jesus who gives trite answers and is full of cheesy *joy*, and wanted to bring more “authenticity” to the picture of Jesus we carry in our minds…which despite my mocking tone I do think is very good) like to hold up this picture of Jesus weeping in the garden as the picture of Jesus. They say “How could Jesus laugh?” but it’s a rhetorical question. It’s a challenge. “If I’m in so much suffering, if the world is in so much suffering, how could Jesus have ever laughed?”
The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus laughed. And maybe God knew for a lot of people, it would be more important for them to know Jesus cried. But I think Jesus laughed. And my question isn’t rhetorical. I want to know– How did Jesus laugh? How did he? If he was walking through the pain of the world, if he was lonely, if he was misunderstood even by those closest to him- how did he laugh? What was his secret?
No, I don’t want to fiddle while Rome burns, I don’t want to build up walls and block myself from the real world, stay safe in my bubble where I don’t have to think about things, or enjoy shallow diversions so I can block out the sounds of the world’s pain. We do that too often.
My question is, Jesus, how can you walk through the broken world showing genuine generous kindness? How can you find anything funny when thousands of people are dying every second? How can you enjoy Peter’s bumbling antics rather than beating your head against a wall and giving up? How do you walk in a world of misery filled with good humor, noticing the points of light, the funny quirks? How do you enjoy things while knowing that there is horrible suffering, too?
And maybe there’s a reason we know that Jesus wept. Maybe in this life, before the King comes back, there will be more tears than there will be laughter. And we can take a wide-angle view and say one day this will all be put right. One day all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Maybe we say “We’re pressed on every side by troubles… but these momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory that far outlasts this all.” And maybe that’s enough for some–that one day it will all be put right.
But I want to know what about today?
(I’m still pondering it. I’m curious to know what you think. But here’s what I think, what I’m hanging on to):
This is my Father’s world. We are not abandoned. We’re not just here fighting the good fight on our own, waiting for the day when Jesus will swoop in and sort it all out. God is here right now. It’s still his world. He is still present. And he is good. And we need to choose to celebrate the good. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis describes all the evil things as insubstantial shadows, and the good as heavy, solid, and more substantial, more real than the evil. It’s the good that will last. That’s the eternal weight of glory. Maybe that’s why it sometimes feels flippant or insubstantial now, and maybe in comparison with the loud wails of sin and darkness it seems small, and flickering, and transient. But it’s really the thing that will last. And so it’s okay to hold on to it. And to celebrate it, and cherish it, and let it’s incandescent sparkle light up our view of the world.
I think Jesus had eyes to see it. I think when the beggars leaped up with straightened legs, babbling with incoherent joy, I think Jesus chuckled with delight. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think Jesus went to that wedding at Cana and laughed at the groom’s awkward dancing and wanted to keep the party going so he made more wine. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think when Peter caught a fish and pulled out a coin to pay the temple tax, and his eyes almost popped out of his head, Jesus tried to hold it in, but couldn’t suppress his laughter for very long. That was something that would last.
Jesus saw how God took care of the birds and the flowers, and he knew God would take care of us. If we enjoy a good sunset, or beautiful mountains, or a seeing a baby take their first steps, how much more delight and joy must constantly be filling God, who can see those moments happening all over the world? (Divine Conspiracy, people, just read it).
Maybe we’re overly familiar and want to make God over in our own image. Maybe there are more of us who need a God who cries than a God who laughs. But maybe we think it’s cool to cling to cynicism, maybe we just like self-pity, and maybe it’s not the holy ones who are filled with a seriousness and sobriety.
Maybe the holiest ones among us are the ones that know how to have a good laugh.