Toward a Theology of Laughter

Have you ever wanted to laugh so hard in front of others but you held back because you were afraid of what they’d think of you? I’m ashamed to say I have.

I’m not talking about laughing at somebody in a trite way to embarrass or expose them. I’m not talking about laughing at crude or vulgar humor that is “out of place” (Eph. 5:4). I’m talking about genuine, clean, witty, endearing humor that draws out joyful, sloppy, fall-off-the-couch, tear-filled, pee-your-pants laughter. We need more of that among God’s people because, honestly, we are often quite boring. I wonder if, in fact, some of us have been sedated.

Jesus presented a picture of what kingdom living is like in the Beatitudes. He said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” I believe in the new heavens and new earth, we will laugh. We will laugh well. After all, the kingdom of heaven is a party with the best wine, according to Jesus’ first miracle (John 2:1-12). But not only the best wine; I believe we will also have the best humor. Pure humor. Humor as God intended it to be. Alongside this will be the best laughter. Pure laughter.

Some may argue that in this life we should laugh much. After all, the world is going to hell quickly and Jesus said, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25). And does it not say in James, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (4:6)? I would argue that we must hold these passages in tension with the countless passages that talk about joy in God (e.g. Ps. 16:11; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). This kind of joy makes you happy and brings laughter. Laughter is not learned. It is a gift purchased for us by Jesus. No one taught my four-month-old daughter to smile and giggle; she giggles because it is in her, because that is one expression of the image of God. There is a tension, of course, but we must remember Paul’s admonition to hold everything in tension while we are in the “already, not yet”:

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

Paul teaches us to keep eternity at the forefront of our minds. Nothing here is permanent. Because of that, there will always be sorrow and joy: on the same days, in the same hour, possibly at the same time.

Pure laughter is something I want to pursue. It says something about the humility of a person who can laugh in the way I described above. Few can do it. I can in the company of my wife and a few close friends. But it should not be that way. When I hear something that merits sloppy laughter, yet I hold it in, I am essentially saying, “I am too good for you. I am too reserved. Too strong. I will not laugh.” This exposes my pride, my self-inflation, that I am better than other people. It exposes the fact that I cannot let down my guard for even a moment to tear up and say, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom, because you are making me laugh so hard.” Sadly, holding back extravagant laughter communicates to other that my image and reputation are more important than delight in humor.

Every time you or I experience a pure laugh, we are taking a step toward humility and we are getting an oh so faint picture of what the kingdom will be like when it is finally consummated at Christ’s return. If the kingdom of heaven is like a party with the best wine (that’s what John 2:1-12 is pointing toward), you can bet there will be hearty laughter. It would be wise to start practicing now.