Authenticity: Where We Meet God
OCTOBER 19, 2022
I’m often asked how one can sense the presence of God. Waiting and watching in the silence is, of course, always appropriate, the Bible and prayer are a part of it, and the Christian “means of grace” in fellowship with God’s people are helpful, too.
But did you ever think that sensing the presence of God happens when you laugh at a good joke or cry at a great loss? What if that is the place where we hear the “soft sound of sandaled feet” more than at church? When we “get” the amazing message of God’s identification with us by creating us in his image, it becomes a game-changer. When we go through periods of great sadness and loss, “mature Christians” tell us to just grow up and deal with it. When we get too frisky and laugh, they tell us to just calm down and be serious. But what if both the sadness and the laughter are gifts from God? And not only that, what if the very place where we encounter God is the place of our laughter and lament because of his own laughter and lament? What if that is the very definition of what it means to be human? Our laughter is free and joyful, and our lament is deep and wrenching, because restoration (and the knowledge of it) is what it means to be created in the image of God. It is a reflection of the laughter and lament of God himself.
The Bible is full of God’s sadness and gladness. For instance, in Genesis 6:6 and Psalm 78:40, God is “grieved.” And in Hosea 11:8, there is great pathos in God’s heart at the thought of giving up his people: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” There is also laughter and joy everywhere too. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” And there are several passages in Jeremiah where God weeps (8:23; 9:9; 13:27, etc.).
God’s gift to his people is the freedom to be real, and there is great power in that. Not only is it a gift, it’s also a reflection of God himself. When it hurts deeply and the tears flow, the tears of God are mixed with yours. When you laugh at a good joke, dance at a fun party, and delight in a friend or someone you love, you can hear his laughter intermingled with yours. Do you know why the cross and the resurrection are so powerful, and at the very center of the Christian faith? It’s because the cross is the place of God’s greatest sadness, pathos, and tears. And when Jesus—a dead Messiah—got out of the grave, it became the place where God’s laughter spilled over onto a sad and broken world. The power of the cross (his and ours) and the joy of the resurrection (his and ours) is where we meet God in the most profound way.
We are often not what we appear to be. I have a friend (and he knows me well) who says that I’m the most intense and inhibited friend he has. “You seem loose, laid-back, and easygoing, but you’re not.” I asked Jesus and he said, “Bingo.” So, I’m going to let Jesus change me. When I feel like laughing, I’m going to laugh out loud (even if it’s inappropriate). And when I feel like crying, I’m not going to hide my tears. Jesus said that he would show me how.
He can show you too, you know. He knows everything there is to know about laughter and lament. Hebrews 4:14–15 tells us that we have a great High Priest, Jesus, who sympathizes with our weakness and gets our suffering, and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are.” That’s the amazing reality of God’s identification with us. It’s not just that God knows laughter and lament, he has come and actually shared in our laughter and lament. The incarnation of God in Christ is in itself an incredible occurrence, but when one considers that God has suffered and cried just as we suffer and cry, was lonely and afraid just as we are lonely and afraid, suffered the loss of those he loved just as we suffer the loss of those we love, questioned the dark just as we question the dark, and struggled just as we struggle, it’s so unbelievable that we can hardly comprehend it.
When Paul in Philippians 4:4 says we are to “rejoice in the Lord,” (actually, he says it twice), he is referring not only to us but to something in the nature of God that reflects his joy. That is found in Jesus too. Jesus was, of course, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” but he was also a man whose laughter is seen in his delight in children, and in his ironic and humorous turn of phrase. The reason so many followed Jesus wasn’t just because of his identification with their tears, but because of his presence at their parties. The first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine so that the party wouldn’t bomb.
In the identification of God with us, and in our laughter and lament, there is incredible freedom. It is the freedom of authenticity. That freedom is found in our recognition and worship of the God of identification. It can be seen in the free and sometimes loud laughter one finds in Christian gatherings and in the refusal to hide the tears that reflect our pain.
Real men don’t cry! Oh yes, they do. They just hide it. Proper women don’t laugh in the wrong places and at the wrong times. Oh yes, they do. They just pretend not to. There is an incredible freedom to be discovered in authenticity. And authenticity isn’t “getting over” the pain and going about one’s life, or in finally getting serious about one’s faith. To the contrary, authenticity is reflected in the childlike laughter of children to whom Jesus likened the kingdom of God.
Adapted from Steve’s new book, Laughter and Lament: The Radical Freedom of Joy and Sorrow.