Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
In our sin saturated life, laughter stands in such bad repute with us, that the very thought that the Lord our God can laugh is distasteful to us.
If it were not written in Scripture, and if there you did not read in so many words: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh,” it would never have come to you so much as to suggest “laughter” on the part of God.
Laughter and seriousness form to our perception so sharp a contrast, that, according to general opinion, in holy things seriousness alone has a place, even such somber seriousness as excludes every inclination to laugh.
We know indeed that there is such a thing as an innocent laugh. And that all laughter as such is by no means to be condemned. But yet, to our perception, laughter belongs exclusively to life in the world, and is excluded from life in the sanctuary.
And in part this perception is correct.
In our broken nature, only as yet restored in its incipiency, we incline involuntarily to relax ourselves by laughter, to get away from the deep seriousness of life, and to lose ourselves more in what is light and trivial.
If you were able to gather up all the laughter of a village during four-and-twenty hours in a phonograph, and then analyze what gave rise to this laughter, into what mood it brought people, and what it effected, you would find that in nine cases out of ten all higher sense is absent from people’s laughter.
There is, indeed, the laugh of inward joy of soul, wherewith the young mother looks upon her babe at her breast. There is the laugh of the poor, at the sight of bread for his hunger. There is the laugh of joy, of those who in faithfulness and love, before the face of God, unite themselves to each other as man and wife.
But these are exceptions.
Most laughter, by far, is laughter of fun and folly, or even the laughter of scorn.
To which is added that universal note of laughter, which in some companies dominates all conversation, when wit, that has mostly missed the mark, exerts and exhausts itself always to be cunning, always to be chummy, and to make the joke pass as currency in our life.
Yet he is mistaken who deems on this account that laughter is an invention of the Evil One.
If laughter and tears stand over against each other, it must rather be confessed, that laughter belongs to the nature of man, and not tears.
He who weeps has sorrow. And sorrow is misery. There would be no misery among men nor in the whole creation of God, were it not for sin.
In Paradise, before sin entered into the heart of Adam, you cannot imagine him weeping, but indeed laughing with holy joy. And when in the Paradise that is to come, all sin shall have been brought to naught, the hour also comes when all tears shall have been washed away from every face.
Thus tears there were not, and once shall no more be; they belong to the sinful estate that separates Paradise that went under, from Paradise that we look for from the heavens.
Of God the Lord we are nowhere told that He weeps. Of angels we read that they rejoice, not that they mourn.
Poets may so have represented it, but God’s word does not teach it.
The matter stands altogether different with respect to laughter.
Of God the Lord we truly read that He who sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, even with a laugh that often seems to us most sinful, to wit, with the laugh of scorn. For upon this it follows immediately: “The Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2).
And when in His beatitudes Christ applies His “blessed” to those that mourn, He says that they are blessed because now they mourn, but in the day of glory they shall laugh.
So little even is laughter excluded from our nature, that, of the destruction of the godless, Scripture says that “the righteous shall see it, and shall laugh” (Ps. 52:6).
The Lord Himself says to the godless: “I also will laugh at your calamity” (Prov. 1:26).
When the people of the Lord return from exile and look again upon Jerusalem, in the triumph-song it reads: “Then was our mouth filled with laughter.”
Even experience teaches that too much weeping depresses our physical nature, and that laughter, which shakes the liver, makes the blood course free and fresh again through our veins.
Yet the same Scripture puts a limit to laughter.
Undoubtedly, laughter and not tears belongs to your nature as God created you. Once laughter belonged in Paradise, and shall once more belong to the realm of glory; but in Paradise you are now no more and in the realm of glory not yet.
You are now in a world of sin and in the time of grace, and therefore Jesus says: “Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).
Also the holy apostle admonishes the people of the world: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).
Even the Preacher from of old already told Israel, “Sorrow is better than laughter” (Eccl. 7:3).
For the sake of our misery, tears are given us; and ability to mourn, so long as the root of sin is not gone from our heart and misery goes on about us, is a grace loaned us of God.
To see how the vain world, amid laughter and play, hurries on in the pathways of destruction is against nature and fills you with sorrow.
Laughter belongs to your nature, once it returns; but keynote of our present existence it cannot be in this dispensation.
The mirth that seeks to predominate all of your life is a jeer at the misery that cries all about us; a palliation of the sin that roots in the bottom of the heart; worse still, a mocking at the seriousness that life, with such an heart and amidst such misery before the face of the Lord, awakes in us.
Does this mean to say that all laughter is therefore amiss, and that piety demands that with sternness and gruffness of face you must disarm every laugh in the family circle?
On the contrary.
Holy Scripture emphatically declares that there is a time to weep, but also that there is a time to laugh (Eccl. 3:4).
Thus laughter is granted you. Laughter in everyday life at what is cunning. Fine laughter over what interests you by its wittiness. The laugh of kindness wherewith you look your neighbor in the eye. The laugh of happiness over a blessing received. Even the holy laugh wherewith inwardly you jubilate in the hidden walk with your God.
Banish laughter you need least of all. And when you look at pictures of the heroes among our fathers who have fought the battle of God, in their strong and manly face, beneath their holiest seriousness, there is ever a play of laughter.
Only, while there is a time to laugh, it must lay no claim upon all your time.
Laughter may have its play in your life, but it may not dominate your life. It may render your association agreeable, but must not strike the keynote therein.
Your right to laugh must be captured by showing first that you also understand what it is to mourn, to mourn over your own heart and misery and the misery round about you.
And it is at this point, that with laughter sin comes in.
Lovers of laughter, but who do not know the sorrow after God and have never learned weeping from inner assault of soul.
Young and old of days who by their vain laughter have unconsciously come under the dominion, under the power, of the laugh, and thereby have become unsusceptible of higher and holier seriousness.
Men and women who are together hour by hour, without a sensible word passing their lips, who spend their days in what is called “stuff and nonsense.”
An evil ended in the dreadful house of our insane, where sometimes you find madmen, who always laugh and grin and roar with laughter, and can no more escape from the violence of that terrible laugh.
Something of this insanity you observe already in advance in the companies of those who always play, always joke, always laugh.
They literally laugh away the seriousness of life, and solve life into one long-drawn-out play.
And this is not all.
For when once the laugh has overpowered you, and has robbed your heart of seriousness, it soon passes over into an unholy, an evil, sometimes a devilish laugh.
Till at length it becomes the jeering laugh at what is holy, the making sport of him who stands in your way, or the laugh to one’s heart’s content at the need or sorrow of others.
Oh, one refers so frequently to sin in word and deed, but is it not time that you should come to a confession of sin committed in your laughter, even though with you personally it has not come so far yet as the poisonous laughter of scorn?
Here too, we grant, the drawing of the proper boundary is, oh, so difficult, for by somberness and peevishness and unfriendly surliness there is equal sin committed against the love of God.
But there is a limit. And we ourselves must reverence this limit. Before this limit we must teach our children to maintain a stand.
In the way of our fathers our domestic and social intercourse must not be one continuous laughter with a single drop of seriousness to offset it.
Neither also one constant seriousness, offset with a forced laugh.
Far less yet, nothing but laughter in the heart, with a mask of seriousness before the face.
This can never be according to God’s word, and has ever been despised by our fathers.
No, genuine seriousness worked in us of God, which aims not at semblance but at reality, does not need the outside decoration of a laugh.
From this in God-consecrated seriousness comes of itself the generous laugh, but a laugh weaned from sin, and especially a laugh at its proper time.