Why heaven may be full of laughter…
It makes sense! Humor is a natural character quality that results from what the apostle Paul describes as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Real humor requires perspective, a sort of self-transcendence, what theologian A. J. Conyers described as a detachment not from others but from the “superstition of self-importance.”
Being a god, after all, is too serious a matter to leave room for laughter. G. K. Chesterton said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
Conyers says that he was reminded of the Chesterton quip while visiting a retired missionary friend who had founded a Christian retirement home.
With Miss [Martha] Franks on my arm, my wife and I were being escorted around the large establishment she had inspired and built.
Here was a woman of advanced age and great beauty whose most notable characteristic was her self-effacing sense of humor. She knew the day was coming when she would have to move out of her house to the more secure dormitory-like home. Taking no thought of playing the part of a saint (which is why I know she is one), she said she’d just rather not live with someone else. She never had to, being unmarried all these years, and she didn’t want to now.
“It’s not that I’m afraid of my roommate being ornery,” she said. “You could handle that.”
“Then what is it?” I asked, playing along.
“The real problem is if they turn out to be nice. Then you have to nice all the time, and that’s a strain.”
Humor like Martha Frank’s is almost a precondition of virtue. Self-absorption is not only the death of virtue, it is also the end of humor. That leads me to think (and this will be my only speculative statement about heaven) that in heaven there is plenty of laughter (“The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them,” Ps. 2:4). Humor, like sympathy, is almost synonymous with a transcendent point of reference.
There is a kind of humor that does not fit this description, but it is almost always either cruel or despairing. It sees the nonsensical elements in life, but it views these things from the standpoint of power and omniscience, like a healthy man laughing at the handicapped or the brilliant student amused at the struggles of a less-gifted classmate. Humor based upon cruelty, violence or sarcasm must maintain the fiction of a self-centered world. I think it is an important question (though perhaps more than we can take up here) whether the humor of contemporary mass media and film is not increasingly of this nontranscendent variety.
But this exception merely underlines the fact that there is a humor and a sympathy that build upon relationship and become impossible without it. What is widely recognized is that the quality we most long for in people are these very ones—humor and sympathy. Does that not give us a clue that something most essential to the human spirit is found there? And perhaps it is here in this enormous of self-transcendence, our attraction to people who can, so to speak, “get outside of themselves,” that we find ready evidence of Jesus’ promise that “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mk. 8:35).
A. J. Conyers (1946-2004) was Professor of Theology at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. This excerpt is from “Self-Transcendence,” Chapter 5 in The Eclipse of Heaven: The Loss of Transcendence and Its Effect on Modern Life.