Life Theology

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.


Welch’s or Wine?

I did this brief (very brief) word study for a coworker of Carly’s who had some questions about wine in the Bible. This is by no means anywhere close to exhaustive. It is merely an overview, and I’m posting it here to open up conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts, however, with such a touchy topic as alcohol, please be gracious by not forcing your personal liberties or legalisms onto other people.

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Wine: Most popular Greek word in the NT is oinos (pronounced “oy-noss”). This is the word used for the wine that Jesus made during his first miracle at the Cana wedding when he turned water into oinos.

There are at least three reasons to believe that oinos is similar to our alcoholic wine today:

  1. This is the word used in Ephesians 5:18 when Paul says, “Do not be drunk with oinos but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Being “drunk” and being “filled” are contrasted here. Both imply intoxication and being controlled by a substance outside of oneself. On the one hand, one (i.e. drunkenness) is negative and sinful. The other (i.e. filled with the Holy Spirit) is positive and holy. So Paul does not say that oinos is bad, but that being controlled by it is (compare 1 Tim. 4:1-5, especially verses 4-5).
  2. This is the word used in Romans 14:21 when Paul says that wine should not be a stumbling block to a brother. If oinos was merely grape juice or some other processed beverage, why would it be considered a possible stumbling block to a Christian? The short answer is that it wouldn’t. No one gets controlled by grape juice (well, maybe in some very bizarre circumstances!). Because of the temptation to be physically controlled by something other than the Spirit, Paul says it would be best for the mature believer to abstain instead of forcing the weaker brother he is friends with to compromise convictions and practices.
  3. Finally, Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words points out that Matt. 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37 imply that this oinos is fermented. In these passages, Jesus is speaking of putting new wine into old skins–he is giving an analogy of bringing the New Covenant to Jews who are still married to the Old Covenant. New grape juice would not cause old animal skins used for a canteen to burst, but a freshly fermented, alcoholic beverage certainly would.

The other uses of the word oinos in the NT give us no reason to believe that this drink is not a processed, fermented, alcoholic drink. It probably was not be as strong as the wine or other drinks we have today, of course. It even took wedding guests awhile to get drunk during the week-long celebration.  That’s why at weddings (like in Cana, see John 2:1-11) they used the good wine first and were content to dish out the cheap, boxed Franzia wine toward the end of the week. Whatever the alcoholic content of wine in the Bible, however, we do know for certain they weren’t drinking Welch’s.


Stellenbosch Vineyards

Part 6 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.


God’s Party and Our Praise

God is going to start a party with the best food and finest wine.  Isaiah 25:6 says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.” I imagine that there will be some decent music at this party as well (because every good party has good music).

One of the songs that will be sung is in verse 9.  God’s people will sing, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.  This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This verse reveals 4 things about God and his people:

  1. God comes to us. We wait on him; we do not go to him.
  2. God saves people; we do not save ourselves.
  3. Salvation results in our gladness and joy.
  4. Our salvation is a reconciling of our relationship with God — not “getting into heaven.”

Let’s think about the fourth one for a moment.  Whenever Scripture mentions “the salvation of the Lord,” it is God bringing us to himself. God’s people are not simply rejoicing in the fact that God allows us to live in heaven and receive good things from him.  That is certainly part of it.  But it is not it. The redeemed are rejoicing because God has brought them from and oppressive enemy and destruction (which in the larger context of Scripture is sin, Satan, and death) to himself.    This is why they are singing, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him.”

Those who are truly redeemed wait for Jesus.  John Piper wrote, “Those who would be happy in heaven if Jesus wasn’t there, won’t be there.”  Is your rejoicing in God or in his gifts?  Is your gladness in the fact that God has brought you into relationship with himself or the fact that you get a lot of benefits from knowing him?  We need to examine ourselves daily and seek to make him our complete satisfaction.  Otherwise, we are making God out to be a divine genie and not the supreme treasure of the universe.