A Theology of Fun
We’re excited to have Les Christie as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminar: Fun and Games. Check out more information HERE.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)
The Reformation abolished fun.
Games, laughter, and fun – the safety valves of society – were seen as nonproductive.
Puritans used to tell their children, “You haven’t come into the world for pleasure.”1 Yet, they would memorize the Westminster Catechism of 1647, which asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 369 years later, a lot of us still don’t get it.
The Humor of Jesus
“It is pleasing to the dear Lord whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.”2 -Martin Luther
Do we assume that Jesus never laughed or joked?
“Though we do not always say so directly, we habitually think of [Christ] as grave in speech and serious…anyone who reads the synoptic gospels…might see that Christ laughed and that he expected others to laugh.”3
Jesus employs several types of humor in his preaching, the most common being irony (Matthew 7:16). He often uses deliberately preposterous statements to get his point across (Matthew 18:23-35, Mark 10:25). And, he commands us in Matthew 6:16, “Do not look dismal.”
Do you think anyone was smiling as Jesus talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24) or the man with a log in his eye who wants to remove a speck from his brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3)? Would you dare have fun if Jesus came to your wedding party? Consider when he turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11). Any chance there was some laughter?
Christians Have Many Reasons to Laugh
I believe only the innocent (namely children) or those liberated from guilt (namely Christians) are really free and able to laugh and play.
“A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity…But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego.”4
When a person comes to faith in Christ, repentance from sin often results in initial sadness – but then breaks into spontaneous gladness and laughter. Why? Because our sins have been forgiven! Laughter and joy follow repentance as sunrise follows night. Like David before the Ark of God, we should kick up our heels in delight (2 Samuel 6:14). As the Psalmist tells us, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:2).
Jesus expressed a full range of human emotions – among them compassion, love, anger, and yes, laughter. Christians should laugh not because we’re blind to injustice and suffering, but because we’re convinced that hurts and problems aren’t permanent.
Becoming Childlike (without Becoming Childish)
“Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.” -Flannery O’Connor
Humility is the small door to the divine playground of fun. You must bow down your high and holy head to enter God’s kingdom – a kingdom that’s been prepared for those who enter it as little children. (Mark 10:15).
Children laugh because they haven’t yet been brainwashed or blinded to the truly amazing things of God.
So what’s our problem? Adults miss the humor in everyday life. I was changing planes in the Denver airport, about to hop aboard the underground shuttle to get to my terminal. Standing next to me was a four-year-old named Jon who was holding his mother’s hand. As the shuttle arrived it whistled like a steam locomotive. I’d heard that sound a dozen times before and gave it little thought.
But not Jon.
He burst into loud laughter and in a slow, deliberate fashion said, “This kind of train doesn’t make that kind of noise.” His mother later told me that he laughs at something new every time he comes to the airport.
Do we, as adult youth workers, find something to laugh every time we’re with our youth group? Maybe we get so busy getting where we think we need to be that we often forget to enjoy the journey.
Laughing at Ourselves
If I had to choose between smiling and laughing, I would go for the latter. The gentle, polite Victorian smile is not nearly as much fun as an unbridled laugh! A laugh that brings tears to our eyes, that makes our stomach ache. There’s something inexplicably energizing about a good hearty laugh expressed with abandon. It brings smiles to those who hear it, even if they have no clue what caused it. Laughter is a place where we go to forget ourselves for a moment, because somewhere in laughter is a force greater than our agendas, or problems.
In C.S. Lewis’ world of Narnia, those who are able to laugh at themselves enjoy laughter with others. Our students need to see us get the giggles occasionally – if only because so many of our kids are growing up in homes where laughter is a rarity.
“Laughter without faith leads to cynicism,” Conrad Hyers has said, and “Faith without laughter leads to dogmatism and self-righteousness.”5
“I will not play at tug o’war. I’d rather play at hug o’war. Where everyone hugs, instead of tugs. Where everyone giggles and rolls on the rug. Where everyone kisses, and everyone grins, and everyone cuddles, and everyone wins.”-Shel Silverstein
- Theology of Play, Jurgen Moltmann (trans. Reinhard Ulrich) (Harper and Row, 1972).
- Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, Terry Lindvall (Thomas Nelson, 1996).
- The Humor of Christ, Elton Trueblooed (Harper and Row, 1964).
- The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960).
- Holy Laughter: Essays on Religion in the Comic Perspective, Conrad Hyers (Seabury, 1969).
Les Christie has been in paid youth ministry for 50 years. He chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University and has spoken at each National Youth Workers Convention for 37 years. He’s the author of seventeen books, including Best-Ever Games for Youth Ministry. Les has spoken in 19 countries and in every state but Alaska. Les loves God and kids and is a passionate, enthusiastic speaker.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.