God’s Laughter

Yesterday my friend Richard Littledale and I had a brief Twittervation (conversation on Twitter) about the Book of Jonah (Richard is writing a book on Jonah, which I’m sure will be well worth reading). I mentioned the humour in Jonah as an echo of God’s laughter, and that has inspired today’s post.

God teases Jonah from start to finish, but it is the loving, gentle teasing of one who wants to rescue Jonah from his own stupidity. Jonah’s attempt to flee God was never going to succeed, but being swallowed by a big fish then vomited on the seashore must have wounded his dignity. All the same, his preaching must have been effective, because even the animals in Nineveh don sackcloth in response to his warning! Only, the Lord does not destroy Nineveh as he has forewarned, so Jonah goes off in a huff then has a misunderstanding about the castor oil plant which gives him shade from the sun. Finally God questions him about his right to be compassionate to all those people ‘who do not know their left hand from their right’. God’s laughter is gentle, but it is very, very eloquent.

There are other passages in the Bible where we catch the sound of God laughing. When God and Moses argue about the backslidings of the Israelites, there is a distinct touch of argy bargy: ‘your people whom you led out of Egypt’; ‘your people whom you led out of Egypt.’ It sounds like two parents disowning their offspring to one another. And in the gospels we find Jesus teasing his disciples again and again, especially poor Peter who is always misunderstanding (thank God for Peter, he gives us hope!) Jesus responded to humour in others: the Syro-Phoenician woman won him over by her quick-witted rejoinder about house-dogs eating scraps from the table.

Perhaps we have made religion in England too serious and not allowed God’s laughter to prick our self-importance as we should. There is a laughter that is destructive. We need to avoid that, but as we get closer to Holy Week, it does not hurt to remember that it is the whole person who is redeemed, not just the ‘religious’ bits.  Our antics must make God smile. It may be too anthropomorphic for some, but I trust that when we reach our final destination, purified by purgatory, we shall be greeted with a huge smile and, quite possibly, a great laugh.


7 thoughts on “God’s Laughter”

  1. Talking of the Book of Jonah… I teach RE and the children were doing a comic strip version of the story. The last caption was the people of Nineveh repenting. One boy depicted Jonah on top of the tower calling people to repentance and a speech bubble coming from the huddled penitents saying “I lick cats”. What a vivid imagination!

  2. Dame Felicitas described to me her last book, which I assume was never written, it was to be The Sense of Humour of Jesus.
    She, as you, claimed to read all sorts of humouring the scriptures.
    I wonder if any of her writings on the subject exist?

  3. One of the bits I love best is Abraham conducting a Jewish negotiation with God about how many righteous there might be remaining in Sodom (Gen 18). I think God has a laugh about that piece of bargaining, too (although not the issue, of course).

  4. It is very good to know (with the hindsight of Peter) that there is hope for all of us! Laughing at myself helps restore a sense of proportion. I pray that I make keep smiling; just for today.

  5. I well remember a teacher at school who remarked (in a history lesson actually) that Jesus’ comment about removing the plank from your own eye before removing the splinter in your neighbour’s showed his sense of humour. I was thunderstruck as it had never occurred to me that Jesus might have a sense of humour (well I was only 12). After that of course I detected it in various places. I guess without a sense of humour there is no true humanity.

  6. As a side note, the Book of Jonah in the first edition of the Jerusalem Bible was rendered into English by J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s well worth … I was about to write that is well worth your while to dig out a copy from your local library, but a quick Bing search shows that it’s online, a “tolkienlibrary.com”. Enjoy!

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