How horrible, and wonderful, it is when God laughs out loud.
His laughter isn’t just side-splitting; it’s world-splitting. His enemies cower in fear. His friends rise in comfort. His laughter warns cosmic traitors of their impending doom, while reminding weak saints that their best is yet to come.
Laughter, for God and for us, is a nonverbal form of communication. It acknowledges that more is going on than meets the eye — that more is happening than what is being captured into words.
According to Psychology Today’s summary, laughter is “one of the distinguishing features of human beings” and may be “the most contagious of all emotional experiences” — yet “little is known about the mechanisms behind it.”
But what is clear — apart from the practical health benefits of releasing tension, lowering anxiety, boosting the immune system, and aiding circulation — is that laughter is “a highly sophisticated social signaling system.” Laughter is social. It’s an effort, however consciously, to communicate to others. Loners aren’t laughers, and when we do find ourselves alone and accidentally laugh out loud, we feel compelled to let others know — “lol.”
Laughter in the Bible
Laughter wields communicative power in Scripture. It often mocks, scoffs, or derides (Genesis 21:9; 38:23; 39:14, 17; 2 Chronicles 30:10; Psalm 52:6; 80:6; Proverbs 1:26; Ezekiel 23:32; Habakkuk 1:10). A fool’s laughter reveals his folly (Proverbs 29:9; Ecclesiastes 7:6), while the laughter of the righteous signals confidence in God (Psalm 52:6). Laughter even serves as a form of what we would call “flirting” today (Genesis 26:8).
And most important of all is God’s laughter. Made in his image, we get our laughter from him — which may be why psychologists today recognize it as “one of the distinguishing features of human beings” even while acknowledging that “little is known about the mechanisms behind it.”
God’s enemies may plot against his people, “but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming” (Psalm 37:12–13). God laughs at those who set themselves against his anointed (Psalm 59:8). And when he laughs, he does so for our sake, to communicate to us. He laughs to give off signals — signals that are horrible to his enemies and wonderful to his friends. The most memorable instance is Psalm 2.
When God Laughs
The setting is black and white: God’s enemies stand against him on one side, his friends with him on the other. His “Anointed” (Psalm 2:2) is the chosen human ruler of his people, on whom he has set his favor. With God’s king are his loyal subjects — originally Israel’s king and his people, and today Christ himself and his church with him.
For God’s people, his laughter gives great comfort. God laughs to dispel our fears. God laughs to remind us no purpose of his can be thwarted. We do not fear along with the rebel nations, because we have heard his voice. We have received his promise. Wonder upon wonder, undeserving as we are, he has set his favor on us, in his Son, and who are we to dishonor him by not receiving the promise of his word? “You are my son” (Psalm 2:7) He has opened our ears, spoken to us, and given us his Spirit to receive his words as sons (Romans 8:16–17).
When we hear the enemies of our God rage, take counsel together, and plot against his Christ and his church (Psalm 2:1–2), the swell of their conspiracy is soon overpowered by the happiest and most comforting sound in the world, resounding down from heaven itself: the mighty mirth of God in righteous laughter. “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:4).
Soon enough our enemies too will hear his voice, as we have, but instead of being comforted by a father, they will be terrified with his fury (Psalm 2:5). They will not simply be conquered; they will be possessed (Psalm 2:8; Romans 8:37).
For those who oppose God’s chosen one, divine laughter communicates their folly. The contest will not be close. It will not be a contest. They stand no chance against the sovereign of all. They are utterly overmatched and will most certainly lose in the end, however long God chooses to suffer them. Standing against God’s anointed King is laughably ridiculous.
Kiss His Son
For enemies who hear foretastes of their impending doom in the righteous laughter of God, he still offers an escape. “Be warned. . . . Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:10–11). It’s not too late. Soon enough it will be. But not yet. “Kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:12), and you will be free from the terror of his laughter and welcomed into the wonder of his joy. He holds out open arms for now, even as he laughs at the vanity of his foes — a severe mercy warning to his enemies that their road leads to falling fury, and that taking refuge in him is an unending shelter of everlasting happiness.
God’s laughter reminds his enemies that they will be broken, and reminds his friends that we will overcome our enemies with him. And not just that his Son will crush the serpent for us, but that he will call his people down from the bleachers, onto the field, and the God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath our feet (Romans 16:20). God’s laughter reminds his enemies that, while he may be treating them with great patience now, soon enough his wrath will be quickly kindled (Psalm 2:12) and it will be terrible to oppose him. And his laughter reminds his sons of their happiness. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).
His People Laugh with Him
The laughter of God is simultaneously horrible and wonderful — horrible for those who oppose him, and wonderful for those in his house, for his children, for his people, for those who hear in his laughter the greatest joys in all the world and echo back his contagious laughter in their own.
For now, his enemies may chuckle with the laughter of unbelief, as they did at Jesus (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:40; Luke 8:53), but we, like the excellent wife of Proverbs 31:25, “laugh at the time to come,” and in doing so communicate our confidence in God to handle our greatest possible troubles.
Like Abraham and Sarah, we are on a spiritual journey from the laughter of unbelief (Genesis 17:17; 18:12–15) to the laughter of faith (Genesis 21:1–7), knowing we will not experience the fullness of God’s own laughter in us in this age of sin and pain (Luke 6:25). For now, we don’t only laugh. Often our laughter turns to mourning (James 4:9). “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief” (Proverbs 14:13). But unhindered, unending laughter will be our experience to come. Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). For now, there is “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). One day, we will laugh forever, and like never before.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis.