The God Squad: God’s sense of humor
Q: I’ve been a huge fan of yours since you and the Monsignor took the good news to the Imus show many years ago. Someone I know posted this on Facebook today, and although I vehemently disagreed with her, I was struggling for an appropriate response. Would you please comment on this? “I know one thing for certain ... God is laughing at ALL of us.” Blessings. — C
A: Thank you, dear C. I have been wanting to write about God’s sense of humor for a long time and your question gives me the chance.
Scripture gives us many examples of God’s emotional state, even though ascribing human emotions to God is theologically dubious (anthropopathism). God is described as regretful and jealous and angry and loving and merciful and wise and patient but rarely is God described as laughing. I believe, however, that our God is a laughing God. Follow me…
I believe that the first joke in the Bible occurs in the Tower of Babel story. Text scholars believe that the story is a put-down of one of the great wonders of the ancient world — the stepped pyramid (esaglia) to the god Marduk (from which we get the Hebrew name Mordecai). It was an amazing structure and the biblical story makes it into an act of vanity. The people who built the tower are described as building it so high that it reached, “up to Heaven.” The next line after describing the awesome height of the tower is, “And God came down to look at the tower.” The tower reaches Heaven and God still had to come down to see it! That is funny. If it is not funny to you, keep thinking.
When Sara is told that she will bear a child in her old age, her reaction is the same as God’s .. laughter and because of that laughter she names her son Isaac, which means laughter, “And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (Genesis 21:6)
The Psalms are full of verses in praise of a laughing God.
Psalm 37:13 imagines God’s reaction to the evil ones on earth who think that they can get away with violating the laws of righteousness, “But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.” Or similarly in Psalm 2:4 and Psalm 59:8, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, but He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” This is not a joyous laughter but it is laughter of amazement and incredulity at the vanity of those who believe they can thwart God’s will for freedom and justice in the world.
The prophet Zephaniah 3:17 echoes this belief in deus ludens, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Yes! I want to pray to a God who sings to me.
The verse in Ecclesiastes 3:4 made famous by Dylan, The Byrds, and God reminds us that there is a time for laughter in every spiritually balanced life, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” If you don’t believe in God laughing because Ecclesiastes says so, you must believe in God because Dylan says so.
Laughter from a laughing God is like a hopeful commandment. In Psalm 118:24 we read, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In the New Testament this same belief is taught by Luke (6:21), “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
And my most favorite proof text for a laughing God is found in Proverbs 19:21, “There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” This verse has been shortened over time into the simple but funny and elegant, “Man plans, and God laughs.” We plan with serious faces and God looks at our limited views of an open future with endless possibilities and laughs. The verse is widely quoted as a Yiddish saying, “man tracht und Gott lacht.” Even Woody Allen picked up this line, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
And remember this all of you who can only find room for a stern and vengeful God, God is not laughing at us. God is laughing with us.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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