God and laughter

Winner in Wearing God sees God’s laughter as intimately connected to justice:

“the laughter of God is inseparable from God’s justice. In the here and now, the kind of laughter that friends of God pursue is laughter that is proleptic – laughter that hints at, or partakes of, the world to come. The best laughter now is laughter that bespeaks a heaven in which those who have been made to weep by earthly rulers will, in the fullness of time, heartily laugh. . . Laughter arranges power, and God provokes us to laugh as testimony – testimony to our belief in a God who is ruling over a calamitous or oppressive situation, despite all signs to the contrary.” Winner, Wearing God, 190.

I deeply appreciate this focus on God’s justice and how God rearranges power. At the same time, this is not how laughter works in my own life. Laughter often comes from being surprised by the unexpected; this doesn’t seem to apply to God. As God is omniscient, even if the rearrangement of how things will be is surprising to us, it is not to God, and so it is hard to imagine God laughing the way I do so many times a day.

Instead, it is easier to see God as lovingly chuckling at us, as an adult laughs at a child who tries out words that he/she does not understand and doesn’t quite get it right. Winner describes this laughter somewhat in a text she read in a commentary on Ecclesiastes:

“‘Laughter makes it possible for us to make a negative judgment while yet remaining open to the other person, or even to parts of ourselves that we find inadequate or embarrassing.’ I will think back to the morning in Ashe County when I heard God laughing at me [rueful – as thought God appreciates that I cannot do any better but wishes that I could . . . as though God wishes that I would become a little bit more transformed, and see that I have not.] I will think: God has made a negative judgment; God is still open to me. I am still open to myself, even to my small, sinful, curdling parts. I will welcome them with laughter.” Winner, Wearing God, 199.

As graduate and professional school so often confronts us with our own failures and sense of being inadequate, it is encouraging to think of God as loving us even in the midst of our embarrassing moments. This laughter gives us the perspective to recognize that we are not as wonderful as we sometimes believe we are – and thus do desperately need God and those around us. At the same time, God’s laughter carries hope that we will still become transformed like Christ, and so we are given the courage to keep trying.


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