EASTER AND THE SOUND OF LAUGHTER
STEPHEN M. CROTTS
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy…”
A man went to see a psychiatrist. He was lonely, depressed and joyless. The doctor listened for half an hour, then prescribed, “What you need is a good laugh. And I know just the thing! Last night I went to the circus. And there is a clown there who is hilarious. I suggest you go to see him.”
“But I cannot!” the patient protested. “And, why not?” the physician asked. “Because I am that clown.”
Here in the waning years of the twentieth century, behind our makeup, behind our superbly manicured lawns and exciting social schedules, are a people who pretend. Though we’ve lost our laughter we still put on a pretty good show. Yet deep down we wonder, “What’s so funny?”
Modern man is desperate for a laugh! Editors place cartoons in the pages of our magazines. Each newspaper has its funny pages. Television has its situation comedies with their laugh tracks, and here in the city you may even rent a clown to enliven your party.
Yet, it’s all a losing effort! Twenty-five percent of the American population will suffer some form of serious depression during the next two years. Nuclear weapons will continue to proliferate, child abuse will increase, the economy will slump deeper into debt and many will handle the gloom by committing suicide, making it the number two killer of young people ages 15 to 35.
The fact is, humor is ill and doesn’t get around much any more. When’s the last time you had a good belly laugh? Is joy a heaping portion of your day today?
It is as if our nation, desperate as she is for a good time, has been robbed of her sense of humor. It’s as if we are under a judgment! And Jeremiah 16:9 explains it all, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will make to cease from this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness…” And from where I sit it looks as though this very thing has happened to us!
But the good news is that God is more eager to give laughter than He is sorrow. The text even says God can fill your mouths with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy!
The Hebrew word most often used for laughter is “tsachaq” and it means to have merriment, to make sport, or to play. The Greek word is “gelao” and it means a sign of joy, satisfaction, or a mark of gratification. And we modern Christians need desperately to get a balance on these things in our lives. So, for such a balance let’s turn to the Bible and see what it has to say about laughter.
THOSE WHO LAUGH AT NOTHING
First of all, there are those who laugh at nothing. Like Jeremiah 16:9 prophesies, God has removed from them the voice of mirth. Their answer to the question, “What’s so funny?” is “Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
You might remember when cars rode on hard rubber tires with no shocks. Every bump in the road produced a teeth-jarring thud until bald tires were repacked with air-cushioned tires that rode on shock absorbers. People without a sense of humor experience life without the cushion which humor provides. Henry Ward Beecher said it so well, “A man without mirth is like a wagon without springs, in which one is caused a disagreeable jolt by every pebble over which he passes.”
Such people walk about taking everything so seriously as if it all depended on them. Nuclear war, famine, teen suicide, child abuse, herpes, AIDS, the deficit, and death.
You might recall the man of Greek mythology named Atlas who was doomed by the gods to hold the weight of the world upon his shoulders. And this is what many of us do today. We take it all upon ourselves! It is philosophical humanism that preaches God is dead, or at best, unavailable, so man will have to do it all himself. And so many, buying into this world view, step forward to take full responsibility for the entire world and immediately lose their sense of humor. We’re like Shakespeare’s character who stands up and says, “I am Sir Oracle! And when I speak let no dog bark!’
It’s been interesting to debate with feminists the abortion issue on campus this winter and spring. And the thing I’ve noticed about these women is their intensity. They think their cause and their rights are the most important things in the world. Seriousness crowds out all banter. And though they’ll never laugh with you they’ll resent you every time.
Beware of those who laugh at nothing! But also beware…
THOSE WHO LAUGH AT EVERYTHING
The other extreme of humor in our day is those who laugh at everything.
For some life is simply one big joke. Thus everything is reduced to the convivial atmosphere of a fraternity party. John Belushi popularized this lifestyle in the movie Animal House. Education, sex, authority, the law, eating—it was all treated with lurid, bawdy humor. And many follow his example.
On a more classic note, Ludwig Von Beethoven did the same thing in his famous Ninth Symphony. Beethoven took a really inferior poem by the German poet Schiller and set it to superior music. And in the symphonic finale called the “hymn of joy” Beethoven looses the voices of a choir and dozens of varied instruments to celebrate man-centered joy. For some few minutes every body sucks and blows, plucks, sings and reaches for every rousing sound Beethoven’s life was like that. Rejecting God, he determined to go it alone, making personal gratification his one aim in life. And it all ended on his death bed with his final words, “The comedy is ended!”
Christ even experienced this in His day as He went to heal a little girl sick unto death. Arriving at the house, the crowd told Him not to bother because the child was already dead.
And when Jesus said He’d heal her anyway, “They laughed at Him” (Luke 8:53). There you have it: A people who don’t believe God is relevant or capable. A people who’re willing to laugh at Jesus, at death, at life—at everything. And ours is a world full of such humor today! Sarcasm, cynicism, gallows humor, whirling in the dark, dirty jokes, endless banter—for some it never ends. And it would do us all good to read and take to life Proverbs 26:18-19, Proverbs 29:9 and James 4:9.
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.”
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’ “
Well does James counsel such people…
“Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.”
On the one hand it seems there are those who laugh at nothing, while on the other hand there are those who laugh at everything. And where is the balance? Where is the proportion Solomon talked about in Ecclesiastes 3?
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; A time to weep and a time to laugh…and He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
LAUGHING WITH GOD
Perhaps you’ve never thought of God as the ultimate source of humor, but it’s time you do. For the Bible not only in numerous places says that God laughs, it also enjoins us to laugh with Him in the things with which He takes delight.
God laughs at man’s rebellion: Psalm 2 describes man’s rebellion against God. “The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord. Let us break his chains on us!” And how does God respond? “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision.”
Every year about this time I have a good laugh as I encounter a sophomore student on campus who has had Religion 101, sociology 103, biology 107 and history 110. He’s doing a twelve page term paper due next week and he tells me if I will give him but 30 minutes he and his term paper can explain away God, Jesus, the church, scripture, and guilt. “What do yo think of that?” he asks assuredly. And I usually shrug and say, “Oh, I think about the same thing of you as I would a flea sitting atop Mt. Everest who shouts, “Hey! Watch me! I’m going to kick down this entire mountain in twenty minutes with my left hind leg.”
Our strength as humans is that we can laugh at ourselves for being so ridiculous. Our weakness is that we need to do it so often.
God laughs at our redemption: Luke 15 tells a story in which God identifies with the father of a runaway child who decides to come home. The dad immediately throws a party in which there is feasting and dancing and laughter. And Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” (Luke 15:7).
God laughs at our rebellion. He laughs when we are redeemed. But He also laughs…
At the routine of life: Genesis 17:17-21:6 tells us the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their first son. Advanced in years, yet childless, they long for a baby. And just when it seems too late, God said, “About this time next year I will visit you and you shall have a child.” Whereupon Abraham literally falls on his face laughing (17:17). When he tells Sarah, she giggles and says, “Shall an old lady have pleasure?” And when the child comes she names him Isaac which is a Hebrew word meaning laughter.
It is interesting in all of this that Abraham’s wife loses her name Sarai to gain the name Sarah. Sarai means contentious. But Sarah means princess. And thus did laughter turn a beautiful but barren and contentious woman into a princess who knew how to laugh with God over the impossibilities of life that become possibilities with God!
Is there humor like this in your life? In your home? Is contention fading fast as the laughter grows? Are you learning to laugh with God over His promises, over babies born, vows kept, old age, nicknames and spiritual growth?
Yes, God laughs at our rebellion, at our redemption, and at the routine of life. But…
God also laughs at the resurrection: Psalm 126 says it so well: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy!”
Just think of it! From the cross God saw man at his worst—snarling, athirst for blood, trying to crucify God. But on the cross man sees God at his best—loving, forgiving, appealing, hurting so we won’t have to. And the joy of it all is that it didn’t end in the graveyard, but began there in the early morning resurrection of the third day!
This past year there was an explosion and cave-in at a West Virginia coal mine. Sixteen miners were trapped in the choking dust of the blackened tunnel. Helplessly they huddled trying to dig their own way out. The air ebbed away. All talk ceased. Three days without food or water passed. The hole stunk with the smell of human excrement. Death couldn’t be far away. All hope was spent. When suddenly the big rocks moved and light and air penetrated their tomb. Those above had dug them out! And what a sight it was when 16 men walked out of that mine. The news cameras were there. So were their wives and children. And such joy and laughter I have seldom seen!
And this is our response to Easter as we realize God has dug us out of sin and the grave. He’s rolled away the stone of death and let us loose with new life in the Spirit!
During the Middle Ages Christians used to gather in the cathedral on Easter morning and hear the story of the resurrection read from scripture. Their response was the “Risus paschalis” or holy laughter of joy. We sing a congregational hymn today. They also shared a congregational laugh! And God made it all possible.
So, we can laugh with God at rebellion. We can laugh with Him at redemption and the things of everyday life. We can even laugh at the resurrection of Christ the Lord. But, we can also laugh at…
Our security: Job 5:17-27 tells it so well. Bound up as we are in the grace and power of God who or what is there to fear? How can we ever be insecure again?
“…at destruction and famine you shall laugh…”
About a year ago television aired its doomsday film, The Day After, all about a nuclear war and life in the aftermath. Psychiatrists warned viewers not to watch it alone. Schools urged parental discretion. After the film a team of experts discussed our options yet it became all too clear that none of them had the answers. Yet smack in the middle of the film was the answer. The theme song for the movie was for may nothing but a lilting, haunting strain of beauty amidst death and destruction. But for Christians, we knew it to be the tune of one or our favorite hymns, How Firm a A Foundation. And it gives us the answer to The Day After. You see, our security is not in man’s efforts for nuclear disarmament but in God’s effort to disarm sin and conquer death for all those who receive him. And Christ has already done this for me and for you. So, in the midst of life’s madness, “How firm! How firm a foundation!” As Job 41:28-29 says, “ the arrow cannot make him flee; for him slingstones are turned to stubble. Clubs are counted as stubble; he laughs at the rattle of javelins,” For we are secure in the love and provision of Jesus Christ.
WHAT GODLY LAUGHTER CAN DO FOR US
What have we seen so far? Some people laugh at everything. Others laugh at nothing. But the wise Christian laughs with God at his security, at the rebellious, at redemption, the resurrection, and the routine of life. And, now, a final word—and that is on the benefits of laughter.
A lubricant: Just as an automobile needs oil to keep its moving parts from burning up, so humor can keep human friction at a minimum.
No one uses humor in a more lubricating, mature manner than President Ronald Reagan. Threatening to veto any Senate tax hike, he challenges, “Go ahead! Make my day!” Laughing at his age and need for a regular nap, he explains, “Russian leaders take naps too. They just don’t wake up.” And it all creates a more agreeable relaxed atmosphere which to make the tough decisions of state. And believe me you, a little banter, a little teasing would go a long way in helping us get along better with the children, the office help, the neighbors, and such.
Of this Proverbs 15:13-15 says, “A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken. All the days of the afflicted are evil, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.”
A healer: Did you know that laughter also has the power to heal? Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful heart doeth good like a medicine.”
Norman Cousins was told he had an incurable illness and was given a few months to live. Cousins refused to believe it, checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel room, where he began to sort out his life. It was there that he felt after such cheerful features, he began to order videos of every funny film he could find. And as the stress began to so loosen, a relaxed and healed Norman Cousins emerged to write a book about it entitled, Let Me Tell You About My Non-operation.
Medical experts have begun to discover that laughter not only relieves tension, it aids digestion, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the heart and endocrine system, activates the brain’s creative center, strengthens muscles, soothes arthritic pain and makes one more alert.
For 60 to 80 years doctors have been studying negative emotions—worry, depression, guilt, self-hatred, anger, hostility, and the like. Now, some of them are beginning to study positive emotions, laughter being one of them. And they are amazed at their findings. So much so that many hospitals are beginning to maintain “humor rooms” where patients can go for regular doses of entertainment and cheer to speed the healing process.
Courage: Not only is humor a lubricant and healer, it is also a form of courage. Some situations in life are so impossibly bad that the only adequate way we can deal poverty, the voodoo and ignorance, says, “When things get real bad and we can’t do anything about it, we laugh.”
During World War II an Allied general found himself surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge. The German commander sent and asked for his surrender to which the general replied, “Nuts!”
When Alan Shepherd, first American astronaut in space, was sitting atop an Atlas rocket ready to be blasted into outer space, the atmosphere was tense. Would the rocket explode? Others had. And Shepherd dealt humorously by asking where the bathroom was. When toldthere was none, Shepherd went in his pants. Thus did a great American hero rocket into space laughing over a routine function of the human body.
“He laughs at the rattle of javelins, “ Job says in 41:29. He is courageous in the face of woe. And He can laugh.
What about you and your sense of humor? Do you laugh at nothing? Or are you one of those two laughs at everything?
Certainly every twentieth century Christian’s survival kit should include in it a sense of humor. To know the season when laughter with God is beautiful in its own time—that’s the secret! And what better time to learn to laugh than on Easter Day! For “when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…then our mouth was filled with laughter!”
O Lord Jesus, help me to take you more seriously, myself less seriously, and learn to laugh hard and often with you. Amen!