A note on my socio-religious quandary on the theology of laughter and the iceberg that lies beneath.
It is surprising how many people have not mastered the art of laughing at themselves. It is an art in that one has to acquire the ability to lay aside their ego and embrace an outsider's view of their mindlessness. Only at that point will you be able to see the humor of it all, laugh at yourself, and yet, keep your self-esteem intact.
Laughing at yourself is even more challenging when you have to do it in the places we associate with silence, reverence, and holiness. Places like church.
When was the last time you laughed at yourself for confidently reading the wrong scripture passage during worship or belting out the wrong stanza during praise and worship? How about the time you were part of the platform crew and you missed your chair and landed safely on the ground? Or the time when you decided to make a quick dash to the washroom and forgot to switch off your lapel microphone?
In my years of pastoral ministry, I have seen much and done much. It never took much to laugh at others’ mindlessness, but it always requires much more to laugh at myself.
At those moments when I’m struggling to catch my breath and my stomach is hurting because laughter has me captive, I have often wondered if God sees the humor of it all. Is He rolling with laughter? Does He laugh at all?
View #1: “No, He doesn't!”
Many Christians consider the idea of God laughing until His eyes tear up as heresy of the highest order. To them, God is a serious divine being who has far more critical things to do than spend divine time on mirth. He has a universe to run and sinful people to save. He is way too preoccupied with sustaining life.
Several well-meaning Christians have told me that laughter is one of the outcomes of sin. The restoration of Christ’s character in our lives will involve doing away with joking and all manner of petty speech. They argue that “jesting and joking” is for “cheap minds; the influence of this kind of conduct is destructive to spirituality.”
And yet, some Christians don't mind a chuckle every now and again as long as it is not in church. This idea has its genesis in scriptures like Habakkuk 2:20 which declares, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” Coupled with Moses’ example in Exodus 3:5 and the worshiping beings in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, some Christians conclude that mirth is out of place in God’s presence. Holy awe and reverence are the order of the day.
View #2: “Yes, He does!”
Of course, there is the other side of the argument, the side that attests that laughter is an exercise in God-likeness. God created human beings to be like Him in form and function (Genesis 1:26), therefore, humans laugh because God laughs.
Since everything that God created was declared good, it is no wonder that whenever we break out in laughter, we trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. This natural feel-good hormone undoubtedly exists by design; it is part of our God-likeness.
The scriptures have several texts that refer to God laughing (Psalm 2:4) and many others that promote mirth. It is God’s purpose to fill our mouths with laughter (Psalm 126:2 and Job 8:21) because “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
What lies beneath
A reasonable number of Christians are invested in this theological conundrum. For them, I am sure that this short article might not alter their positions or cause them to switch theological camps. I am not worried about that because there is a more significant issue that I believe deserves our attention.
Regardless of your theological position on the question of God’s laughter, there is, among Christians, the dangerous practice of creating God in our own image. Instead of God creating us to be like Him in form and function, we have the habit of making/inventing a god who resembles us in form and function.
For example, our religious arguments and positions on church music tend to reflect the individual’s conviction on what’s good or bad. We then turn around and teach our preferences as God’s preference.
Our ideas on dress code and the use of jewelry often follow the same line of reasoning; what is acceptable to me is precisely what God requires of you.
This mentality often becomes foundational for our theological ideas. Thus, when we encounter someone who holds a different understanding than our own, we automatically write them off as wrong — forgetting that we are all students at the feet of the master teacher, God the Spirit.
In our educational experience, well, at least in mine, there was a time when it was mathematically impossible to do subtraction when the second number was bigger than the first. For the person I was at that stage of life, that was all the truth I needed to make sense of the world around me.
But the longer I have lived, I have needed to broaden my understanding so as to make sense of the world I live in.
As a father of three, I don’t force my mathematical worldview on my five-year-old. Her view of the world doesn’t include the possibility of negative balances, and I know and understand that both our worldviews are equally correct for our respective worldviews.
I seriously wonder: can we peacefully co-exist in the same theological space if my worldview of God involves Him desiring to “fill my mouth with laughter”? Is there room in religion for serious Christians who avoid the toxicity of mirth?
Is it humanly possible to collectively sit at the feet of the master teacher, God the Spirit, and be okay with our seemingly different curriculums?
1. White, Ellen G. The Youth's Instructor. Ellen G. White Writings. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/469.1794#1799.
Thandazani Mhlanga is a pastor, educator, orator, and author currently serving in the Osoyoos Church in the British Columbia Conference in Canada. Pastor Thandazani and his wife Matilda have been blessed with three beautiful girls who are the joy of their lives and their highest calling. (www.themscproject.com)
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