Laughing With the Sinners

There is a line in a song by Billy Joel (Only the Good Die Young) which reads, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”

There is a myth about sin– that sin is fun and obedience is drudgery. Sinners laugh and live carefree, happy lives, while “saints” lead gloomy lives filled with tears, worry, and anguish. Heaven will be filled with sour-faced do-gooders playing harps, while Hell will be an eternal party.

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Nothing could be further from reality. While sin gives momentary pleasure and temporary laughter, it also leads to devastating pain and haunting regret. Broken families, lost relationships, stress, and guilt are just some of the consequences of sin. The idea that “I’m not hurting anybody– I’m just doing what makes me happy” is a false comfort.

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Similarly, while obedience may require us to make sacrifices or suffer momentarily, it also leads to great reward–discipline, wisdom, integrity, and a legacy of hope and help. The idea that “I’m missing out on the fun” is also a false one. “Saints” may cry, but often their tears are for the misfortunes of others!

Unfortunately, the common stereotype of sinners laughing while saints cry or, more often, sit in judgment, is based on observation. I have known some very sour Christians. They may not be crying, but they frequently make others around them cry! They nag, scold, wag their fingers, consign their neighbors and family members to Hell, and act as though they are too good for everyone else. When challenged about their negative attitude, sometimes they suggest that they are just “waiting for Heaven.” Others plead a genuine concern for others, and they worry that the laughter they hear now will turn to mourning in the future.

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But I have also known joyful Christians– laughing, singing, encouraging others, whistling while they work, even laughing in the face of suffering and persecution! They, too, are “waiting for Heaven.” But in the meantime, they are celebrating their new and abundant life in Christ. Their attitude and actions attract others, and reflect the love, joy, peace, and hope that transcends the mere “happiness” of a moment’s sinful pleasure.

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The Bible says much about the value of both laughter and tears; of joyous celebration and sober reflection. In the end, ALL of us are “sinners”–no one is righteous on her/his own. Jesus, when He walked the earth and interacted with people, wept and celebrated with them. The Pharisees reprimanded Jesus and His disciples for their “feasting” and spending time with prostitutes and tax collectors. And yet, Jesus had harsh words about sin and Hell, and often spent time alone and in anguish of heart.

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The crying of saints is not, in itself, of any more value than the laughter of sinners. But laughter and happiness in the moment cannot save us from the sting of death or the yawning emptiness of an eternity without God. And that is no laughing matter! Unfortunately, the song is based on an empty myth. Death comes to all of us, young or old, “good” or “bad,” gloomy or exuberant in life. What makes the difference is not our laughter or tears, or even our efforts to obey or live “good” lives– what makes a difference is GRACE and FAITH. And I’d rather live with the redeemed than die with the defiant!

Where’s the Joy?

I love puns– friends from all over the world send me the craziest puns, “punny” images, silly videos, and awful jokes.  Except for those that are patently offensive and find their humor at someone else’s expense, I really enjoy them all.

Someone has said that puns are the lowest form of humor, but I disagree.  In fact, I often find that puns, like humor in general, can cause us to explore a serious topic in ways we would otherwise avoid.  The image above tickled my funny bone, but it also caused me to think.  Where is my Joy?  Do I bottle it up and hide it down in my cart, or does it bubble up, iridescent and smelling of sunshine (and possibly lemons) from deep down in my heart?

clear bubble
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Prayer is a serious topic, but it shouldn’t be joyless.  Even in our troubles, we can be confident that we are loved, cherished, and precious.  In our grief and sorrow, we are not overwhelmed (though it often feels as if we are) when we have this kind of joy.  It will wash away despair, anger, doubt, and weariness, as it rises up.  We pray for so many other things– health, wisdom, forgiveness– we should also pray for Joy.  Not the false and fleeting joy of a silly pun, or the veneer of joy that lies and says that “everything is great.”  We need the kind of joy that sings through tears, laughs at storms, defies despair, and shakes the rafters!  And we need the quiet, blessed assurance that God is in His Heaven and even if all is not well with the world, God still has everything well in hand. Such joy, lodged deep in our heart and soul can keep us from buckling under the weight of loss, the exhaustion of stress, and the threat of chaos.  We need a new “Dawn” of “Joy” (yes, I had to include another pun). We need to pray for joy. We need to cherish it.  And we need to pass it on.

The world could really use it!

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