Holy Laughter

In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard writes of the comedy of church services, “Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter.”

Like Annie, and like God, most of us have endured services full of bloopers, sitting reverently in our little pews while painfully holding back the laughter. Backstage after the show, the pastor and the worship team grimace together and with a sigh of relief thank God for his mercy toward their fumbles. We are all hypocrites, I guess, and God must be very merciful in it all.

But it is so much funnier when we think the service was perfect. “The worship was awesome! The message was so powerful, so anointed! God really showed up this morning!” This is true hypocrisy, when we actually think our efforts at worship were somehow worthy of the Designer of the microbes and the constellations! When we take ourselves so seriously, God proves himself all the mightier in his restraint.

God must laugh at us – but never in derision – it is the chuckle of a father at an earnest two year old assuming the gravity of an important grownup. We will always be his little ones, and in his compassion, he laughs even as he weeps at our pompous presumption.

Maybe we have reached the limits of his restraint in recent years. It seems our Father has allowed us to see the expression on his face in the “holy laughter” that has erupted in the church. The phenomenon has been soundly criticized for bringing disorder and confusion when the preacher is making a profound point and someone breaks loose with a belly laugh. It looks like they are making fun of God, but I think it is actually God that is making fun of us.

I can hear him saying “In all your seriousness, you pretend to know me so well, but you have often missed my heart by a light year. You are abusing my little lambs with your systematic theology and biblical pedantry. Loosen up! Become my little children again and receive my tenderness and affection. Laugh with me!”

Our most sincere attempts at staging reverent worship will always fall far short of the one we worship. Dare we step out of ourselves for a bit, take our Father’s big hand, look back at our own silliness, and laugh along with him?

6 thoughts on “Holy Laughter”

  1. I somewhat disagree with this one. Not about the Holy Laughter – my only opinion about that is that it is probably like many things – sometimes real and sometimes manufactured.
    No, what I disagree with is that I truly believe that God is pleased with our worship and in that sense our worship is worthy of Him. I agree that it is at its best when we approach Him with childlikeness. However, that childlikeness includes confidence that our gift will be highly valued. When my littler children make me a card or other gift they never are fearful that I won’t like it. They are sure that I have just been waiting for the very thing that only they could make. And they are right. Certainly if I viewed their work as an art critic it would fall short. But that is the point – God is not our critic, He is our father.
    I realize that your point is that we take ourselves too seriously, and that we think too highly of ourselves. I do not disagree with that. I am only saying that in a sense we have to feel our great importance to God in order to be in that child – father relationship. If we see Him as a person with true emotions we must believe that He views us through the filter of those emotions.
    I think the problem more comes when we do not take God seriously enough. Oddly, that is what makes us too somber. When we start to believe that we have high worth in ourselves and not only as the objects of His love then we believe that our church is worthwhile in itself. It is all about relationship. I do think God laughs with joy at our antics sometimes. I fear that more often He cries with grief at the hardness of our hearts.

  2. Will, I probably did not articulate well the main point I had in mind: I do not believe God is pleased when we try to worship better than someone else.
    In the US, with evangelical churches on every corner, we are tempted to compare them in terms of how ‘good’ the worship is. If I am in a service and start to think “We are really doing it right here” compared to some other church or some other time, then I believe I have lost it completely, and my Father is not at all delighted.
    He is pleased with a humble and contrite heart, but I am tempted to notice when I get humble and think very highly of it.
    I don’t know any better way to keep my perspective than to learn to laugh at my own attempts, and recognize that my Father is equally pleased with all his children, regardless of the polish or power they can produce in a church service.

  3. I see. Competitive Christianity is poisonous yet so seductively ingrained in me.
    One of my children, anonymous, has a burning desire to be the most loved child, the best child, the golden child who somehow is valued above the others. I do not know whether I modeled this or it is some genetic trait. It gives me some idea of how My Father feels when I try to be the best missionary, the deepest christian or the most man of godly. Also, referring to my child, the results are invariable not the desired ones. This child, while well loved, continually does things to compete with and belittle the others, And sometimes there is a resentment born in the bitterness that we refuse to love this child more or declare it better than all others. The resentment moves my child further from me not closer in.

  4. There was a story of a little peasant boy in France (?) who sang beautifully to God. God took notice of him. One of the angels (?) heard God notice and tried to help God by moving the little boy to St. Peters cathedral… (Sorry lacking correct details) God gieved over the missing little peasant boy who sang to him so beautifully.

  5. Jim, you express something that resonates with me, if I am getting it what you say. I *love* your illustration of a two year old acting all grown up and the adult getting a chuckle at the seriousness put forth for a two year old.

    At the same time, sometimes I’m sort of disgusted with the ‘seriousness’ of a ‘church’ service….as if that is a reflection of who our kind God is. I want to stand up and say, ‘Wait. We are taking ourselves a wee bit too seriously here. What’s God’s face registering right now? Maybe all our pompous attempts are really like dust in the wind….as if God needs our help to make things happen. Can’t we simply do some ‘glad to be together’ moments with God together? What really is the important thing right now….?”

    This might be different from what you expressed. But I think what I’m trying to say is that the thought has crossed my mind in some ‘services’ where I kind of shake my head, smile a sort of crooked-like smile, “I wonder if God is laughing at how seriously we are making ourselves right now.” Not in derision, maybe sometimes some disgust? and maybe sometimes some amusement?


  6. I think we are seeing the same things.

    It’s hard to put words to it. I believe God is so far beyond what we can conceive, and yet he is somehow so personal and close. His beyond-ness doesn’t require our deadly seriousness. I think we should enjoy our relationship as children of the Father and reflect that in our togetherness, and not worry about trying to properly reflect his other-ness in our worship.

    I think of the great cathedrals that were meant to echo the greatness of God, but perhaps really reflect the greatness of the vision and budget of the builders. They evoke something beyond the common man, but I doubt they come close to reflecting the greatness of God!

    Thanks for your comment.

Leave a Reply