To Laugh in His Presence, by Stephen Carney

To Laugh In His Presence

By Stephen Carney

I wonder how many Christians there are who so thoroughly believe God made them that they can laugh in God's name; who understand that God invented laughter and gave it to His children... The Lord of gladness delights in the laughter of a merry heart.
- George McDonald,
Marquis of Lossie

George MacDonald understood that human laughter had a divine origin. Laughter itself is an odd human condition. After all, why should we laugh? Life is filled with sadness and tragic events. To listen to the fatalists of today, life seems to be nothing more than some twisted joke, poorly played, upon unsuspecting humans who have tragically misunderstood the prank of the universe. Which is, of course, that humankind is here by accident and not design. The mindless soup of the universe gave you the ability to dream, hope, love, feel, cry, think, be logical/illogical, believe, work, pray, care, help and of course laugh for no real purpose. There is no right or wrong. No purpose for your existence and therefore all your dreams and hopes are nothing more than brain delusions. Being good has no purpose and evil should not be so “evilly” labeled. Being good or bad is nothing more than people or events behaving as they need to. Life is nothing more than a bizarre trick of an impersonal universe that neither cares whether or not you exist. The end of all knowledge, then, is nothingness. We do it all for no end or purpose, except our own selfishness. If this is the heart of the universe, then no one would be laughing, except with a mad insane laughter. I hope at this point you are saying, “Hey, wait a minute I thought this essay was about humor and laughter?” It indeed is, but there are two kinds of laughter in the world. The insane, sarcastic, maniacal type and the wholesome laughter that says, “Life is filled with things that surprise us in a wonderful way with the thrill of the unexpected.” It is a healthy laughter because deep down it understands and knows that “All shall be well!” Or as MacDonald's anagram on his bookplate states it, “Courage, God Mend Al.” The heart that believes that God shall mend all things can laugh the deepest and best laughter. For the universe is not playing some trick upon mankind. Instead, the heart believes and knows that it is God who laughs that the universe should be given so much credit. Winds and storms come upon mankind and destroy at times his dreams, but as MacDonald asks, “What is at Back of the North Wind?” The ill winds have a secret, according to MacDonald, and if we knew the secret our hearts would be lifted and we would laugh the laughter of God. “They said that he had died, but I knew that he had gone to the back of the North Wind.” There, is the wonderful, divine humor of God. Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in Me, will live even if he dies.” (John 11) This is what is at the core of MacDonald's sense God's joyfulness and the source of all laughter.

MacDonald wishes his readers to know what I call the “Wonderful joke of God's love,” and that is this: Yes, life can be tragic and you have done tragic things. You have hurt people, been hurt by people and had terrible disappointments in life that may have resulted in you being depressed, discouraged and down on yourself. But here is the “joke of love:” In spite of all you have done and all that has been done to you, you are still loved by God and nothing you have done or would ever do, will ever change how God feels about you. He, “even while we were yet sinners,” sent his Son to die for us. “The Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” Everything will turn out alright in the end. What a wonderful surprise! Mankind hides in darkness, even grows to love it, because he fears rejection. He believes that if anyone saw what he is really like they would run from him. Yet, God does see and he cares and he is drawing us out of ourselves into his divine love. The sadness is that we don't often “get” the divine joke, or humor, if you will. There is an ancient tradition, true or not I have never been able to discover for sure, that April Fools’ Day falls close to Easter because it had its origins in the Gospel story. Satan thought that he had defeated God's plan by having Jesus crucified. Friday looked dark and dismal. Joy had been stolen, hearts were broken, but...wait...Sunday is coming! On that first Sunday Jesus rose from the dead, defeated death and hell and brought us, as MacDonald says, “to at-one-ment” with God. So, in some traditions to this day, April Fools’ Day is a time to celebrate the “joke” God played upon the devil. It is our ability to “see” and embrace the “joke” and experience the joy unspeakable it brings to our salvation. Hence MacDonald's line from Sir Gibbie, “The man had a redeeming sense of humor, though he did not know how to prize it, not believing it a gift of God.” The lack of humor in the Christian life, or the lack of understanding the serious importance of humor as a product of salvation, MacDonald saw as a lack of spiritual development. For MacDonald, understanding divine humor was the serious “business of life.”

Further, MacDonald wrote an entire novel based on a few lines of a humorous poem that he had heard at a party. Hence the following lines were the inspiration for David Elginbrod:

"Here lie I, Martin Elginbrodde:
Hae mercy o' my soul, Lord God;
As I wad do, were I Lord God,
And ye were Martin Elginbrodde."

In the novel, there was much discussion between Hugh and David as to the seeming “irreverence of the epitaph.” David makes the case for the kindness of God in the matter. Yet, that is MacDonald's constant point, in nearly all his books, whether they be sermons, novels, poems or fantasy, that God is infinitely as good and kind as we can imagine Him to be. David says to Hugh, “‘at gin he, Martin Elginbrod, wad hae mercy, surely the Lord was not less mercifu' than he was.” Far too many preachers and theologians have made God nearly merciless and a tyrant. MacDonald has pulled the curtain back to reveal the true, kind father who lies at the heart of the universe. What is unique in MacDonald's writing, is that he is redeeming God from the hands of those tyrants who would picture as God an unyielding dictator, rather than of a loving Father, “who is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to everlasting life.” life.” 

MacDonald conveys to us the greatest humor of all: Once we have found ourselves, standing with willing obedience in the presence of God, we will laugh with such joy, as we have discovered that we had nothing to dread or fear. The words of I John, chapter four, come to mind here, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we might have boldness in the day of judgement. For as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear. For he that fears has not been made perfect in love.” Perhaps, MacDonald had those words in mind when he wrote these powerful words about laughter in Sir Gibbie: “It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.” In the day that we stand before the God of the ages, our Father, Redeemer and Friend, we will not only laugh, but perfect love will have made us fearless and filled with boundless joy! We will wonder then, that we ever dreaded anything, except to NOT run into the loving arms of such a loving God.