I love to laugh. I love to see others laughing. The people I’m closest to are the ones that make me laugh. I have a respect for those who can make me laugh. The storytellers—those who see the world through the eyes of the absurd, the whimsical and their own twisted prism of understanding—are often some of the smartest people I know.
My favourite TV shows at the moment are the British comedy series Black Books, The Office and Arrested Development from the US. I find myself saying, “I love these shows. I love the characters,” by which I mean I love the way they make me feel—make me think—make me laugh.
I've been lending the DVDs to my Christian friends, telling them that they need to experience what I have (though they should be careful with some of the sexual references, swear words, and the glorification of drunkeness and immorality). My evanglestic zeal is acceptable I think. To share laughter and joy is a way of easing pain. Providing an escape is a noble purpose in this world with all its hurt and brokeness.
But I have recently been struck by something I read in Ecclesiastes:
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The idea that “sorrow is better than laughter” really grinds against me and what I believe. Because this is one line from a book of the Old Testament, I'm hoping to ignore it. Ecclesiates says some strange things, anyway.
I remember one day I was struggling with my faith. I looked around, unhappy with the world as I saw it and with who I had become. I was searching for meaning and I was desperate for hope, and I prayed to the Lord and opened up to the middle of the Bible to Ecclesiastes 1:2 for some reassurance from his word. It said:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
“Man,” I thought, “that's rough!” But I had to admit that God has a sense of humour; reading that made me laugh and then I began to feel better. I started to think seriously about how to read the Bible and I sat down and read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes.
In the first few chapters the Teacher seeks and searches out wisdom. Finding it meaningless, he turns his mind to pleasure, making the statement that “[Laughter] is mad” (2:2). He then turns his journey to foolishness,
I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
These odd-sounding statements express for me clearly a certain time in my life. During my early 20s, I had seen the world as absurd and his the creatures on this planet as the same. I had sought to investigate what was worthwhile by drinking heaps, and enjoying laughter and foolish behaviour. And at Uni there were plenty of people willing to do likewise.
I realised, though, that the true absurdity is attempting to live without God—even denying his existence. I needed to see the world as owned by a Creator God. While the world is fallen, broken and perishing, it contains a hope that is held out by a loving God—a redemption offered freely to us through His Son Jesus. The work of God is a powerful, beautiful statement. My reaction, therefore, should be to fear God (5:7). In fact, if we want to understand the world, we need look no farther than the conclusion of Ecclesiastes: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13).
I think we humans are entertaining ourselves to death. We're laughing—seeking pleasure—chasing after shallow lifestyles of fun and whimsy. But while fun and laughter are gifts to be enjoyed in this world, we need to understand that we will all die and be called to account for our lives. God asks for our lives so that we will seek Him and know Him. We are to give him the whole of our lives for the whole of our whole lives.
Spending time with my friends laughing is wonderful, but we need to spend time together crying also—thinking on death and focusing on God. At the moment I'm spending time thinking of a funny way to end this article and I’ve got a good joke—a joke that made me laugh ... laugh so hard I cried.