The One enthroned in heaven laughs. (Psalm 2:4)
David went on to describe God’s anger at sinners, but the first reaction he mentioned was God’s laughter. Why did God laugh? I had always read a scornful tone into this verse, a mocking laugh. Still, it’s laughter. It could seem mean. When people have laughed at me, that’s how it has seemed to me. So… why is God laughing?
Laughter is often our reaction to others in pain. Movie comedians have mined this reaction for years. This simple point doesn’t need documentation but I’m grabbing my chance to remember some of my favorite examples.
Laurel and Hardy won their only Oscar for their 1935 short, The Music Box. The whole film is about them trying to deliver a piano, a wife’s surprise birthday present for her husband. The house is at the top of a long neighborhood sidewalk staircase (which now has commemorative signs identifying it for tourists). The boys spend half the movie trying to push the piano up those steps. That sets up a moment when they finally reach the house.
The house has a small decorative pool by the front door. Naturally — of course — there are steps at the front of the pool. You know what is going to happen. But not right away. First Oliver pauses for a moment on the last step to adjust his grip on the packing box. Then…
That’s only the first time they encounter the pool. The next time they enter it with the piano (of course!) from above, from the house’s second story window. I vividly remember nearly falling out of my own chair in laughter the first time I saw that moment. I was laughing at the clumsiness, the embarrassment. Laughing at the pain.
Another example is from one of the all-time classics of silent movie days, Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last in 1921. To save his own job, Harold has suggested a building-climbing stunt to draw crowds the department store where he works. The stunt climber he has hired is delayed and Harold “starts” the climb, his pal promising they can swap places on the second story. Even if you’ve never seen this gem, you know what happens. Harold makes the whole, hair raising climb to the top himself. Every inch of the way there are ridiculous, hilarious complications. His arrival topside produced the famous emblematic shot that came to represent all silent movie comedies: Harold hanging off a clock face. Naturally his weight begins to loosen the clock. Of course.
I once showed this movie to a friend visiting our house who had never seen a silent movie. The only time her laughter stopped was when she was catching her breath at the frightening risks Lloyd was taking. We were on edge about his close escapes from pain. But we laughed.
One more example, one I mentioned awhile back. It is much quieter, much smaller. In the final shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1955), Grace Kelly, who has been chasing Cary Grant, catches up with him at his French villa. They kiss. You would expect the romance story line to fade out there. But this is a Hitchcock movie. The dreamy kiss ends with Grace smiling and looking over Cary’s shoulder at the villa. She speaks.
“Mother will love it here!”
Now we get the fade out, after seeing Cary’s reaction.
And why are we laughing? We are laughing at the pain.
So let me finally get back to that. What brought this all to my attention was a post I made to a humor blog. I might as well show you here. For those of you reading this after this week’s news has faded, the headlines this week have been about an apparent peaceful negotiation between South and North Korea. North Korea has said they will end the nuclear testing that had left the world jittery for years. Donald Trump is being credited for helping bring it about. This has driven his critics nuts. Here is the joke I found and posted.
Within hours one woman had objected. “Not funny. I can’t stand Trump… he SCARES me.” I wanted to say, “Thanks for proving the rule that jokes are funny when they’re true.”
Instead, the Lord spoke to me. “Laughter and pain do the same thing. They say something seems wrong.”
I reflected on that and realized that laughter and pain are more than self-contained emotions. They are both signs that point to something that we believe is out of order. We could be mistaken. We might misunderstand the sign, or read it differently than others do. When the sky fills with thunder and lightening, children may shout with excited laughter while adults dodge for cover — or vice versa.
The sign is not the point. What it points to is. We may find different signs pointing to the same thing. Disagreement about the sign may distract from more important disagreements about their focus. Not speaking the same language blocks sharing and communication from the start. Only the devil laughs then. And that is mocking laughter.
It gave me a fresh appreciation for the problem we have in sharing anything about our encounters with Jesus, the problem God Himself still has in showing us what He is doing for us. We find it hard to believe that doing what God wants is better than what we want. God’s rules seem weird. His boundaries are uncomfortable. We are inclined to laugh at them after trying them and finding them painful.
It’s not that God is cruel or mean. He’s laughing because we are so confused, lost in the darkness. His laughter, like ours, is a signal that something is not as it should be. If we are scared, that doesn’t mean it’s His fault. If we’re scared about what He is doing with us, we’re wrong.
As Jesus said over and over, “Fear not.”