Divine Laughter

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I think it’s fair to say that the magnitude of a problem can depend on one’s perspective. That’s why a problem that seems insurmountable to one person can seem laughable to another.

Perhaps you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps your first grader has progressed in Kumon from addition to subtraction and has a complete meltdown because “minus ones are just so difficult!” It takes a good dose of patience to assure the child that the Great Mystery that is subtraction can be mastered. One day, life’s great challenge will seem laughable.

But isn’t it a strange truth that the same first grader who considers basic subtraction to be a meltdown-worthy problem shrugs of far more serious challenges? Isn’t it strange that six minus one is earth shattering while the economic realities of COVID-19 are a minor inconvenience?

This is where perspective comes in. Because, while minus ones seem, to adults, laughable as a real-world problem, few of us would treat lightly the real problem being faced by President Ramaphosa and his advisers. For many South Africans, it would be pure bliss if our greatest problem was minus ones!

Psalm 2 points to this matter of perspective in problems. It may not be the main point of the psalm, but it is a valid implication. Let me explain.

As Christians, one of the most pressing problems we face is opposition to the gospel, which frequently manifest itself as opposition to the people of God. While Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who are reviled and persecuted for the sake of the gospel, it is not immediately easy to recognise the blessing. When we are mocked for our faith, or missionaries are denied visas, or churches are attacked, or Christians are sidelined from polite society, we are tempted to wring our hands in despair and wonder how we will ever overcome these challenges.

David, in Psalm 2, speaks to this issue of gospel opposition. He portrays “the nations”—shorthand in the Old Testament for those who oppose the truth and the people of God—as raging and plotting against God and his people. We know from other psalms that David did not take such opposition lightly. It caused him great distress. But Psalm 2 portrays God at perfect peace. In fact, so at peace is God that “he who sits in the heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” It is not the nervous chuckle of uncertainty and hope-so hope that he will emerge victorious. It is the confident laugh of one who sees the opposition as utterly insignificant. The problems that seemed so threatening and demoralising to David—that seem so threatening and demoralising to us—are laughable to God.

We don’t know the precise nature of the problems that David was facing. It seems quite likely that he was facing the threat of war from surrounding nations. It is possible that the nations were raging at David much like Sennacherib and his forces did in Isaiah 36–37. Perhaps foreign kings were mocking David and his God as they threatened to destroy “the LORD” and “his Anointed.” Whatever the precise nature of the problem, it was causing David some distress—and yet the Lord laughed derisively at the very problem that kept David awake at night. He had plans for David and his people and the schemes of foreign kings would not stand in the way.

The situation before us at this time is no laughing matter—at least not to us. Uncertainties abound: health threats, economic collapse, potential unemployment, etc. These problems may keep us up and night and cause us to cry to God in despair. If they do, take a moment to imagine them from God’s perspective. Imagine how God laughs at the problems that seem so insurmountable to us—not because he thinks they are silly or does not empathise with our struggles, but because he is in full control and knows that nothing will stand in the way of his plans for his people.

Stuart