I’m struck with the lack of overt humor in the Bible, especially given how often we readers tend to treat delight and laughter as one and the same. Yet the Bible avoids linking God to laughter even though it speaks of his delight and joy. So joy, yes, but laughter, no. Irony, yes, laughter, no.
There are, of course, references to God’s derisive laughter in the Psalms—references that target the arrogant sort of folks who dismiss his Son and his ways.
In Psalm 2, for instance, we see how the nations rage and plot against God and his anointed Son. His response? He laughs at them from the heavens where he sits with everything working out according to plan.
And in Psalm 37:13 the righteous man is despised by the sort of folks who think more of getting ahead in life than in pleasing God and caring for others. The collective Bible term for such ambitious and ruthless folks? Call such a person an “evildoer” or a “wicked man”. And what is God’s response to such folks? “The Lord laughs at the wicked for he sees that his day is coming.”
So this isn’t about any delight or levity: it isn’t God treating sin as some sort of jovial moment in a dull day. He, instead, laughs as a warning: “We’ll just see who laughs last, you, my arrogant foes.”
What we find far more in the Bible is that God grieves over our sins. The Spirit—who brings God’s love to us as a direct emissary—is grieved as stony human hearts despise his winsome overtures. And we find the Son calling out to Jerusalem to turn to him but he is, instead, crucified. God’s painful compassion keeps him from laughing, at least for now.
Yet here’s a guess: that God’s humor is behind our human humor. Here’s what I mean. We all love to laugh, especially when laughing expresses a release of joy. Think, for instance, of the moment in a surprise birthday when a person finds gathered friends waiting behind a door with a party cake, balloons and lots of affection. Laughter erupts.
Let me press my bit of speculation here. I think that the Triune relationship from before the time of creation—what Jesus references in John 17: 5 & 24 as his shared “glory” with the Father—was full of laughter. Surprises—with delighted laughter—are the fruit of creativity and we know that in the Godhead we have the ultimate font of creativity. So that in the distinctions of God’s being—as Father, Son, and Spirit—we can expect that mutual delight and discovery were present in God’s eternal and creative love.
If this is the case, when will get to see it? During the time of sin? That is, during the period that began with Adam’s fall in Genesis 3 and only ends with the final victory reported in Revelation 20? Hardly. God’s somber compassion is such that he meets our period of pain with a gravity appropriate to our shattered state. This is not a time for laughter.
So is a time for laughter yet to come? I think it is. Listen to Isaiah speak of the coming day of restoration: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing: everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Will we laugh then? Will Jesus—God’s Son—be leading in joyous laughing? Yes, I’m sure he will be. And the Father? I think so!
But for now, most of the laughing in this world seems to be found among those who are prospering in their independence from God—with laughter as a sign of their successes.
Maybe we too will do well to stay a bit somber for now and wait to join the divine laughter in a day to come.