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I was fortunate enough not to grow up in the generation that was taught to picture God as peering down at us, waiting for us to slip up, make a mistake, fail to do a good deed, so he could then shake his finger at us and give us a good scolding. My parents told me stories of coming to Sabbath School when they were young, listing the good deeds they had done, and then having them GRAPHED from week to week! The kind of God who demands that isn’t likely to smile a lot, much less laugh.
By the time I was attending Sabbath School, in Northern California in the 70s, the emphasis had shifted away from the works-based lessons and we were told how much God loved us and that he died to save us, even though we don’t deserve it. OK, fair enough. We knew God was good…but he still wasn’t much fun. After all, he wouldn’t let us go swimming on Sabbath, even when it was over 100°! Yes, he loved us very much, but did he actually LIKE us?
My world-view shifted in a single moment when I was in my mid-20s. I can’t even remember where I saw the picture, just the impact it had on me. It was a painting of Jesus, walking on the beach with the disciples. He had his arms thrown around two disciples’ shoulders, his head was thrown back and he was roaring with laughter.
Brought up, as no doubt most of us were, with pictures of Jesus looking either pious, stern or tortured, this was a revelation. Of course he would have laughed…why had this never occurred to me before? In fact, I’d be willing to bet that at that moment he was laughing at a salty joke one of the fishermen had just told him. The Bible tells us that Jesus was qualified to be our Saviour because he experienced every state that humankind is prone to: morally, physically and emotionally. We tend to interpret the latter in terms of the negative experiences: loneliness, pain, fear, anger, doubt. And when we are experiencing those things it is comforting to know that we aren’t alone, that Jesus knows exactly how we are feeling because he has felt them in exactly the same way.
But what about the positive emotions? Did Jesus feel elation, excitement, compassion, joy, love, amusement? We know he did; not only because in a few instances the Bible describes it, but because we ourselves feel them.
When I go to a wedding and admire the glowing beauty of the bride, smile at the slightly awkward pride of the groom, sympathise with the teary-eyed parents, I can imagine Jesus doing the same in Cana. He didn’t go to the wedding to preach or even to perform miracles. He went to see two people commit their lives to each other, to fulfill the relationship He had in mind when He created us.
When Jesus told the disciples to let the children come to him he didn’t do so just to make a point, or so he could preach to the children. Surely he did it because he loves kids. I think he wanted to listen to their stories, chuckle at their jokes, be shown their skinned knees and stubbed toes, to cuddle the little ones, to soak up the unconditional love children freely give without even being aware of it.
We, of course, are God’s children on a grand scale, and Jesus’ feelings for us must be much the same as they were for those children 2,000 years ago. He likes our company. He wants to hear our sorrows, our joys, and to laugh with us at the absurdities of life. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, a time to weep and a time to laugh (Eccl 3:1,4). There is a time for God to be stern with us, even occasionally grim, but that’s not all there is to God, nor to life.
Yes, Jesus wept, yes, he was the Man of Sorrows, and this is integral to the man and to his mission; but if he really was our complete representative, Jesus laughed.