Sunday, April 29, 2007

Laugh more, cry more

I've been pondering recently how very detached it is easy to become. I mean, one can very easily find oneself in a place where the most terrible of tragedies elicits not a single tear, and the most stunning beauty barely prompts a gasp. Laughter is hardly ever more than a cynical chuckle. More often than not, a shrug is all the expression of emotion we can manage.

This strikes me as sad. Also, ungodly.

If there is ultimate meaning in the world - and, for reasons I may go into in a later post, I think that there can only be ultimate meaning if there is God (not "a god", but God) - then everything has meaning and significance. Tragedy is real tragedy; joy is real joy. And to treat them otherwise is to deny God.

God says "Yes" to creation; he says "Yes" to life. That's one of the main points of the Genesis story. Creation in all its fullness, which I take to include the various expressions of human existence present in potential at the beginning, is approved by God. That means it is to be enjoyed, loved, experienced deeply and emotionally. Thus Karl Barth:

"Thus the call that we should seek joy is not merely a concession or permission but a command which cannot be lightly regarded by one who has appreciated the divine justification of creation. We need not be ashamed before the holiness of God if we can still laugh and must laugh again, but only if we allow laughter to wither away, and above all if we have relapsed into a sadly ironic smile". Church Dogmatics, III/1, p. 371

Isn't that sadly ironic smile the precise posture of our culture? Of course, it can hardly be otherwise in a world stripped of God and therefore of meaning. In such a world, we can't be sure that life is good - or even that good could be defined in a meaningful way. But for the Christian - for the one who believes that life and creation are good on the basis not of a deduction from the (admittedly confusing) evidence of life itself as it appears to be, but on the basis of God's word which says "Yes" to creation - there must be laughter, and there must be joy. A holy naivety is called for here. We take God's "Yes" to creation at face value and believe it, whether the world currently looks good or bad to us, and we seek joy.

Christian, play silly games! Run around on the grass! Above all, laugh!

There is, of course, a flip-side to this. God has not only said "Yes" to creation. He has also said "No". God judges what is evil in life and creation, and in so doing reveals that evil is also real, and not merely an impression of our minds. Evil is real, and so tragedy is real. It is not a meaningless event in a meaningless world. It stands under judgement, but that doesn't make it any less real. And so we must experience this, too, in a deep, emotional - above all, real - way. Barth again:

"How can a man stand before his Creator without realising that he is lost and must perish? ... Hence the man who must and will weep has no need to be ashamed when faced with the Creator's goodness. The only man who has cause for shame is he who motivated by false pride refuses to weep, or perhaps for simple lack of insight has lost the capacity to do so. The very last thing that ought to happen is the attempt to elude the misery of life" CD III/1, p 373

Taking God's "No" as seriously as we take his "Yes", we are required to mourn and weep. So much in our world is wrong. So much is painful. So much is evil. In a world where there is ultimate meaning - in a world where there is God - we must take these things seriously, and respond appropriately in grief - and also anger.

Christian, weep as you watch the news! Grieve as you see the brokeness of the world! Above all, cry out against it to the God who has said "No" to evil and will not let it have the final word.

"...the divine revelation manifests both the sorrow and joy of life, and therefore not only permits but commands us to laugh and weep, to be glad and sorrowful, precluding only the attitude of indifference, the judgement of the sceptic..." CD III/1, p 375

I am convicted that I need to out-feel those around me who do not know God, because unlike them I have reason to believe that my feelings are a response to real joys and real tragedies. I need to be involved intellectually and emotionally in all the real good and all the real evil of the world and of the lives of those around me.

I need to laugh more. I need to cry more.

1 comment:

  1. Feeling is dangerous. Chase joy and you may end up finding that actually God's been stalking you with joy unspeakable & full of glory. Then you might find that in this life, glory / beauty / joy comes through pain as the whole of creation groans waiting for the final redemption. We trivialise emotion as a coping mechanism. Emotion which truly engages with reality makes us vulnerable.