It’s time to turn the page. Begin a new chapter. Start fresh. 2021 is behind us, and 2022 is before us. How are you approaching the annual commencement of a new year? With fear? Dread? Complacency? Anticipation? Expectancy?
Let me suggest another word for the genesis of 2022: Humor. Sound odd? Perhaps, but I’m serious. Humor is not just frivolity, levity or foolishness. Humor can actually be a pathway to faith. Reinhold Niebuhr says that humor is a prelude to faith, and “laughter is the beginning of prayer” (“Humor and Faith,” in Discerning the Signs of the Times, 111).
Perhaps you haven’t thought of laughter as a spiritual habit, but it is, and it’s in short supply in the modern-day Church. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Psalm 126:2 teaches, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”
We typically think of Sarah laughing with the news of her late-in-life pregnancy as a sign of a lack of faith, and perhaps part of it was. But Sarah also celebrates the news by saying, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).
Why is laughter so important? Because it points to faith “in that both humor and faith spring up in response to the reality of the paradox and the incongruities at the heart of human experience” (Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, 74). Sarah laughed in the face of the paradox of her pregnancy. Job was reminded that God “will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting” (Job 8:21). And Job’s life was anything but smooth sailing.
Jesus wept (John 11:35), but surely He also laughed when He was at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12), or when He spoke metaphorically of a camel fitting through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), or when He called the children to join Him, even in the face of the disciples’ indignation (Luke 18:15-17).
Humor points to faith in that it doesn’t see the suffering of the world as the final word. Humor responds at a lower level, but it opens the door for the higher response of faith, believing that tragedy will be overcome by victory. As Os Guinness writes, “Faith is never flippant and rarely frivolous, and it is as foolish to laugh all the time as it is to be serious all the time, but the truth still stands: The dynamics of the cross of Jesus are closer to those of comedy than tragedy” (ibid., 77). Whereas tragedy only reminds us that we could never escape from the prison bars of this world, comedy shows us the way to freedom. Peter Berger concludes, “Sometimes we must laugh in order to perceive…. Comedy is more profound than tragedy” (Redeeming Laughter, 205; The Precarious Vision, 213).
I encourage you to make 2022 a year where you learn to laugh. Dig deep in the well of redemption, for we have much in which to rejoice. Pray that, like Sarah, God will bring you laughter and that others will laugh with you. If you are experiencing a “dark night of the soul” (John of the Cross), remember that “weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). If you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, know that death is not the final word (1 Corinthians 15:54). And that, my friends, should bring a smile to your face and a spring to your step. Welcome to 2022.