by Kyle Worley
As darkness begins to set on Minas Tirith, Gandalf stands with Pippin at his side and in the face of a fierce enemy begins to “laugh suddenly…putting his arm about the hobbit’s shoulders, and gazing out of the window. Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
We find this account of the final days of Sauron’s reign over Middle Earth in Tolkien’s Return of the King. What compels Gandalf, the great wizard, to laugh in the face of what appears to be legitimate grounds for despair? “A fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
What is mirth? Mirth is a kind of rejoicing, commonly expressed in laughter. Mirth is a light heartedness. Mirth is the art of not taking yourself too seriously. Mirth is a willingness to call the world’s bluff; it is the privilege of those who know death is dead and the war has been won before the battles ever begin.
Mirth is one of the many logs tossed onto the fire of Christian devotion that allows the Christian to look into the darkest portions of our world (sex trafficking, cancer, marathon bombings) and stare down a crippled enemy grasping for straws in a world that is slipping faster and faster away from his grip.
GK Chesterton ends his wonderful work Orthodoxy with the claim that “there was something that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” While I agree that had Christ displayed the full “mirth” shared among the persons of the Trinity it would have been far “too great” for our mortal hearts to handle, I do believe that we receive glimmers of the mirth of God.
In Matthew 17:24-27 a few tax collectors try to fluster Jesus and His disciples by asking them about taxes. Peter, like a good citizen, is quick to affirm that Christ pays the tax and then proceeds to go towards Jesus who is well aware of this prior conversation. When Peter approached Christ, He said, “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Go ahead. You can laugh at the words of Jesus. Is this not mirth? That Christ would pay his taxes from the mouths of fish?
How about when we read in Psalm 2 that when the nations rage against God and rulers gather together to overthrow God and His people that “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Christ laughs at those who would be so naïve to think that they can dethrone the very one who holds them together.
And in that beautiful passage in Hebrews 12:2 where we are challenged to look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
A joy that can look down death and press onward, that is mirth.
If mirth was coursing through the veins of the perfect man, Christ, than what role should mirth have in the life of a man today? Let’s look at two things that mirth is not, followed by, three ways mirth should be a part of what it means for you to be a man of God.
What mirth is not:
First, mirth is not folly. Proverbs is full of warnings and rebukes towards those who make a practice of foolish living. Folly is celebrating the power and autonomy of self. Mirth is reveling in the power and sovereignty of our Creator-Savior King. The fool laughs at the lion because he hasn’t felt the power of its crushing jaw. The man of mirth laughs at the lion because he knows its mouth opens and closes at the command of God. Don’t believe me? You should meet my brother Daniel.
Second, mirth is not sinful. Laughter is not sub-holy. Please don’t misunderstand me; our God is to be approached with reverence. He is not some “homeboy” in the sky to be treated with naïve flippancy. Yet, it is a product of our sinful hearts to separate joy from reverence. Those who cry tears of grief and those who cry laughing are welcomed at the throne of God. He comforts the broken and weary and He celebrates with those who are gushing with joy. He “mourns with those who mourn and rejoices with those who rejoice.”
So, if mirth is not folly and it is not sinful, what role does mirth play in the life of the man of God?
Mirth is fuel for death-defying boldness. Mirth is a defining mark of biblical manhood. Mirth powers the exact kind of boldness required for men of God to look out at Goliath with David and say, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26) If we want to be men of boldness we must be men of mirth.
Mirth is a song of worship to a risen King. Rudolph Bultmann was often quoted as saying that it was foolish for people who flipped a light switch to believe in the virgin birth. Well Mr. Bultmann, when you chuckled after cracking that joke, you were only able to summon laughter because there is an empty tomb. Like Bono sings in “Window in the Skies:” the grave is now a groove…all debts are removed. Laughter, the physical expression of mirth, echoes around in an empty tomb where a God-Man defeated death and crushed the head of a dragon.
Mirth is a wonderful apologetic in a world of despair. In a culture where heroes, happy endings, and fairy tales have been ostracized from our libraries, cinemas, and comic book stores, we need men of God willing to not only preach boldly, but to laugh boldly.
One day, may it be soon, when the King returns to claim His bride, we will join Him at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. He will be at the head of the table and regardless of where you sit on that table, I can assure you of this, you will hear His laugh. You will know His mirth.
–Kyle Worley is Connection Minister at the Village Church in Dallas, TX. He is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed and blogs regularly at The Strife. He holds a double B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy from Dallas Baptist University. He is currently completing a M.A. in Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is pursuing a M.A. in Religion at Redeemer Seminary. You can find Kyle on Twitter @kyleworley.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.