If you cannot laugh at yourself, and laugh at yourself with others, you have a theological problem—you do not take God seriously enough. There is a reciprocal relationship between taking God seriously, and taking yourself less seriously. When people take themselves too seriously, they naturally become self-referential and touchy. They tend to be on the lookout for personal slights and hear every comment in the worst possible way it can be understood. People who take themselves too seriously live by comparisons to gain their identity. They are always wondering if they are superior or inferior to the next person in gifts, possessions, recognition, and the like.
Christians, committed to the sovereignty of God and the supremacy of Jesus Christ, should live a life full of laughter and joy because the ground of their hope is grace and not performance. We see what a high view of God can do to bring about an almost scandalous joy in the midst of difficulty when we examine the life of the apostle Paul. Life is serious, but living in the grace of a sovereign God, who saved a guilty sinner like you through the crucifixion and resurrection of the very Son of God, changes one’s perspective. It produces within you a palpable sense of the irony of your salvation. The apostle Paul deals with countless derogatory personal attacks, and yet he never responds to them by defending himself. He certainly defends his apostolic authority and his gospel message, but he does not seem concerned with personal attacks. Why?
Paul is called fickle, wimpy, unimpressive, cowardly in person, a poor orator, ugly, haughty, greedy, deceitful, and worldy (2 Cor 1:17, 23, 2:1-4, 6:13, 7:2, 10:1-2, 10, 11:7-9, 12:13-15, 13:1, 6). Why is it that Paul did not find this type of criticism debilitating? It was because he did not need to be validated by his critics–he is in Christ. In fact, Paul seems to laugh at himself in light of these personal criticisms. There is a “it is worse than you know” quality to the way Paul reacts. They think he’s a fool, he agrees that he is “a fool for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor 4:10). The apostle Paul is a bold, unapologetic preacher of the gospel with an absolute commitment to the truth, the sovereignty of God, and the supremacy of Jesus Christ and that is the secret of his relentless joy (Phil 4:4, 1 Thess 5:16) and ability to laugh. Paul was thick-skinned because of the gospel. He knew the irony of the fact he was involved in a “clay pot” revolution (2 Cor 4:7).
At the very end of his classic work, Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton explains that in a fallen world “men are born upside down” and they think “the heavens are actually below the earth. . . . he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on.” According to Chesterton, it is the grace of God in the gospel that turns a man right side up and fills him with awe and laughter that flows naturally from his understanding of the greatness of God and his utter neediness. Now that he is on his feet, “joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small.” He writes,
Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I do believe, in my heart, that there may be as much holiness in a laugh as in a cry; and that, sometimes, to laugh is the better thing of the two.” An appropriate wonder at the glory of God in the gospel will mean that even in gloomy times we remain ultimately captivated by grace and truth. It is our gospel awe that should birth our distinctively Christian laughter, because we understand that the kingdom of the crucified Christ is so much bigger than us, and yet inexplicably by sovereign grace and mercy alone, our lives can, and do make a difference for eternity. When we take God seriously, we know that joy is the substance of the Christian’s life and sorrow is the shadow. When we take ourselves too seriously, we believe the exact opposite.