“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21).
What does Jesus promise when he says that we will laugh? What will we laugh about in the new creation? What type of laughter had God inspired in his people?
The story from the Hebrew Scriptures in which laughter plays most prominently is the birth of Isaac (“he laughs” in Hebrew) to Abraham and Sarah. Both of the old pair responded to the suggestion of conception and birth as if it were a joke. Yet God challenged these incredulous responses with reason for better laughter: “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) What would give Abraham and Sarah a genuine, divinely-endorsed, lifelong chuckle was the miraculous intervention of YHWH into their barren, elderly, childless family. When God transformed their cul-de-sac into an interstate, all they could do was laugh. As Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Genesis 21:6).
Psalm 126 captures this laughter over unexpected divine reversals. “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalms 126:1–3). While the exact incident this song recounts is not specified, the cause for the laughter is clear: YHWH had acted in ways expected only in dreams and fairy tales. The delightful shock over his wondrous works merited one human response. “Our mouth was filled with laughter.” So great was the reversal of fortunes for Israel that even the gentile nations observed, “YHWH has done great things for them.”
Nowhere in the Old Testament is this reversal of fortunes more pronounced than the book of Esther. The beautiful young woman at the center of the story goes from being a parentless exile to beloved queen. Because of the the divine favor Esther receives, Haman is hung on the very gallows he built for Mordecai, while Mordecai takes Haman’s place as the king’s most influential advisor. The Jewish people, instead of being exterminated by their enemies, gain the upper hand and plunder their enemies. Thus Esther is considered by many to be a comedy. While laughter is not specifically mentioned, the story explains the annual “days of feasting and gladness” over “the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday” (Esther 9:22). This is God’s brand of laughter.
With this backdrop in mind, consider again Jesus’ promise: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). The reason we will laugh in the new creation is the same reason Abraham and Sarah, the singers of Psalm 126, and the Jews in Persia laughed: God’s great reversal of fortunes. As such, the only ones who will “get it” are those who join Jesus in weeping over the present, tragic state of affairs. “You who weep” are the ones who will not accept physical deterioration, broken relationships, or systemic injustice as a normal part of God’s world. They refuse to retreat from the brokenness or rest content with temporary comfort, wealth, and power. Their mantra remains, “This is not how it was supposed to be” and their prayer is “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2).
And when the kingdom does finally and fully come, the tears of mourning will be turned into tears of joy. When we see the heavens and earth made new, we will throw our heads back and laugh with irrepressible gladness. The reign of God–arrived, not craved–will inspire unprecedented delight and celebration. We will feast and dance and revel forever in the presence of our King.
Until then we will laugh at stories, word plays, honest mistakes, and humorous banter. But let us not mistake this for true laughter, and let us refuse to join in with the world’s laughter over the very things that should make us weep. Indeed, let us prepare our hearts for laughing well in that great day of divine reversals by weeping well in the present.