Laughter Rolling off the Golden Throne
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it.” – Revelation 20:11
“God says we shouldn’t crave gold. That’s easy for Him to say. His whole throne is made out of it.” The flat affect and fake naivete in Jack Handey’s joke are ridiculous. I laugh every time I hear it.
But Freud says, “Our enjoyment of a joke indicates what is being repressed in more serious talk.” What am I repressing?
The joke points to the fact that human speculation about God is preposterous. God is too grand for us to grasp. It is ridiculous for us to talk about God’s identity. The moment we do, we fail. I’m a preacher and preaching is a doomed enterprise. That’s what I’m repressing.
Wouldn’t it be better to practice silent awe? Perhaps. But then we wouldn’t have the Christian story. And without the story all we’d have are God-dappled days. Which sounds great, until you remember that such days are rare indeed. Meanwhile, Sunday happens every week.
Karl Barth put it this way: “As Christians we have to speak of God. We are human, however, and so we cannot speak of God.” In the face of that conundrum, what can you do but throw up your hands and laugh?
Laughing in church is a way of saying, “Let’s be honest. We don’t really know what we’re talking about.” Laughter undercuts religion’s clammy sanctimoniousness. And its murderous certitude. We better laugh.
I bet Jesus is laughing too. Sitting on his golden throne he sees the grandeur of paradise and the glory of creation. He sees the whole world, held gently in his hands. And then he sees the Church. You and me holding his story in our hands. This means that nothing less than the truth of God is dependent upon how loving we are with each other over store bought cookies at coffee hour. Can’t you see him shaking his head at the absurdity? I swear, listen closely and you can hear laughter rolling off his golden throne.
Dear God, let us hear your laughter.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.