Writings by Cole Huffman

A Few Kind Words for Laughs

Only bibliophiles read the “Acknowledgements” in books, where authors thank and praise those strangers-to-us they love and appreciate. We are occasionally rewarded with some finds in salutes, such as in the new biography Charles Hodge by Paul Gutjahr, about the renowned nineteenth century “Pope of Presbyterianism.”

After acknowledging how long his project on Hodge’s life actually took—so long that one of Gutjahr’s sons mused Hodge might outlive his father though already dead—Gutjahr dropped this insight about his subject: “He was a man who not only loved his Lord, but who loved to laugh. On some deep, profoundly spiritual level Hodge understood that where there is no laughter, there is no Gospel.”

Where there is no laughter there is no gospel. I’m not yet far enough into the book to see how Gutjahr makes that connection explicit. But I’m all the more welcomed into Hodge’s life knowing he loved to laugh. I used to think the best theologians maintained a cut-above austerity—serious people for serious Christians in serious times. Hodge was a serious theologian, no doubt; an important guardian of orthodoxy under attack. But that’s precisely why it makes sense for him to have understood that where there is no laughter there is no gospel.

Laughter is more than a stress-release valve. It’s more than a night’s entertainment. More than frivolity or an engaged sense of humor. Laughter is the sound grace makes turning superciliousness (funny word) into self-deprecation. Why shouldn’t I learn to laugh at myself since I now know only one is perfect? Laughter is the stand faith makes. Why shouldn’t I laugh even when people do their worst to me, intentionally or accidentally? Like King Lear at the end of his tragic life, calling to the daughter he loved: “…Come, let’s away to prison; / We two alone… / so we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh….”

Speaking of prison, I got a huge tax bill this year due to a costly mistake by my accountant. It struck me with dread initially, but I found comedy in it too. I had to. Mammon is a bully capitalizing on human frailty. It likes to have power and needs to be loved, so much so that Mammon doesn’t really know what to do when you shrug at it. You can disarm it with chuckle and chortle. And it even needs to be mocked now and again to remind it of its real place. I’ll have less of Mammon for the next few years until the IRS is paid-in-full. But the real tragedy would be a deficit of God, the God who makes us happy. Mammon is the god who makes us worry.

Where there is no laughter there is no gospel. Gospel truth is the mirth of a freed person. Our freedom in Jesus is even a little zany, I think. Read the New Testament again and again. How much confidence God has bequeathed (funny word) to His people! I can approach the Ancient of Days boldly in prayer! I’m given every spiritual benefit and blessing in Christ Jesus! Why shouldn’t I laugh when I consider how mad with love God is for His people? As the comedians say, you can’t make this stuff up.

Theology never need be curmudgeonly (funny word). The serious Christian is putting himself on if he’s all glower and no glow. If the gospel progressively frees us from over-conscientiousness of self then it frees us to laugh—at ourselves, our enemies, our troubles.

Laughter doesn’t spoil solemnity. It spoils somberness. And somberness needs spoiling when too much of it is our over-conscientiousness of self. Too little laughter can mean we’re not solemn enough; that we don’t know the joy that dances before God with all our might just because we’ve been entirely sobered by His presence (read 2 Samuel 6). Such laughter expresses deep solemnity. Joy is serious.

In his reflections on joy entitled Champagne for the Soul, Mike Mason writes, “Joy instinctively sides with God in everything.” That’s a spring-loaded conviction releasing laughter like flares into even the darkest air again and again and again. When who God is for us is savored it is enjoyed. It’s not just that we want to love the Lord and laughter too, but love the Lord through our laughter.

Where there is no laughter there is no gospel. I love my Lord and I love to laugh. My laughter needs sanctification as much as anything else about me. But laughter is apiece with praise like little else. C. S. Lewis once defined praise as inner health made audible. Laughter “can too,” to Stephen Colbertize it (funny word).

Posted by Cole Huffman at 7:01 PM
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