Years ago, and I do mean “Years ago”, I remember a fable about a dog that had a prize bone, or a morsel of some sort, in his mouth crossing a stream of water. The dog looked down and saw his reflection in the water. Being a dog and not capable of reason and greedy as well, he drops the morsel in his mouth to grab the one in the reflection, thus losing what he had in an effort to gain something he didn’t have. This past week has been a reminder exercise of that moral.
Sometime in the early ‘70’s Playboy magazine published an article by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox. The cover picture for the article was a portrait of Jesus … laughing. I have no memory of the details of the article other than the picture and the notion that, contrary to the image of Jesus that I’d been raised with, was inaccurate at best.
I hadn’t thought much about that article or Harvey Cox for years until this past week. Furthermore, I don’t know why I suddenly remembered it then, but there it was, front and center in my thoughts. I felt compelled to find the article and picture and began searching with the help of three separate search engines. My very first effort yielded an article about the article with that same picture, but like the dog in the parable, I thought I could find a bigger one and continued my search without saving what I had. Like the dog, I ended up losing what I had and have been unable to locate the article anywhere else since. So why was that particular picture so important?
The impact that picture had on me at that time was significant. I had already given up any attachment or association with church, in large part because I felt an estrangement from what I saw as an impossible and not-human expectation of perfection for me. The thought that Jesus was capable of laughing was totally foreign. Not only had I never seen a minister, pastor or other church official express anything resembling humor, I had never considered for a moment that Jesus was human enough to laugh at a good joke. After all, He was the Son of God and God never laughed … well maybe when he created the Platypus.
Bottom line … I never thought of God or Jesus having a sense of humor and the thought was earth shaking for me. What part of “created in His image” did I not get? Apparently a very significant part I’d say. Maybe that’s because another memory tended to get in the way. That other memory was of someone whom I have no memory of, once saying that everything that we find humorous and causes us to laugh, involves someone’s pain; either physical pain or emotional pain, i.e. “embarrassment”. I have, as of this point in time, found no circumstance which I find humorous that does not involve one of the two, and often both.
It seems somehow incongruous for the Creator of the universe to chuckle at either … but He did invent humor did He not? Were we not created in His image? So what conceivable purpose could finding humor in pain or embarrassment serve? I have to look as the effect that laughter has had on my own occasional pain. When I do I’m reminded of a particular circumstance from thirty years ago.
The carport of the home we were living in was open-beamed and from that central beam, I’d been instructed to hang a single rope swing manufactured by Fisher-Price for our children. At the bottom of the rope was a square piece of plywood about 12 to 15 inches square with the rope passing through a hole in the center and knotted on the underside to keep the board in place. One afternoon we adults were fooling around with the swing and it was my turn on the swing. My sister-in-law began pushing me higher and higher until suddenly at the very apex of the swing’s arc, the rope broke. I landed, on my tail bone on the concrete. I’ve seldom experienced such pain. I couldn’t get up. All I could do was crawl … and cry. The wife and sister-in-law on the other hand were doubled up in laughter. I was furious. How could they find my extreme pain so funny that they couldn’t even offer to help me to my feet or inquire as to my well-being?
As the pain slowly began to subside, my own sense of humor began to show itself and soon I was laughing as hard as they were in spite of the residual pain which eventually kept me from sitting normally for several months. Today, many years later, I find myself still laughing at the memory. The laughter helped me forget the pain. Eventually I came to realize that humor can be recalled, but pain, once it’s gone cannot be recalled.
God invented pain, and He invented laughter, I believe as an antidote to pain. When I couple that fact with the memory of the picture of Jesus laughing, I find Him, God in person, so much easier to relate to. It makes my prayers seem somehow more important to Him. It makes the condition of my life seem more important to Him. It makes the occasional pain I feel seem more important to Him. It draws me closer to Him … and closer to Him is where I want to be.