Tag Archives: laughter

Laughing with God

Deeper than the wisdom to create is the wisdom to repair.

And so, G-d built failure into His world, so that He could give Man His deepest wisdom. To repair.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

How is repair deeper than creation?

-Posted by Avi

If you have unlimited resources–like G-d does–it’s much easier to throw out the broken pieces and start all over again than to keep them and get them to work.

That’s what Torah is–the ability to sustain the world while repairing it.

-Posted by Rabbi Freeman in response to Avi

God did that once. Destroy the world because it was easier than fixing it.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” –Genesis 6:5-7 (ESV)

Fortunately afterwards, God has told us that, even though it’s easier to destroy and start creation all over again, He will take another path from now on.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” –Genesis 8:20-22; 9:12-17 (ESV)

And while the sign of God’s covenant with Noah has been appropriated for everything from rainbow ponies to the LGBT movement, it remains for me the promise that even though it is easier to destroy and recreate than to maintain, God has promised to continue to “sustain the world while repairing it.”

But what about individual human beings? Can and will God sustain us while we’re “under repair?”

Recently, I’ve commented about the seeming randomness of the purpose of individual lives as well as how faith can wane and leave each of us feeling isolated and alienated from God. While God may wait for us to return to Him, will He wait forever?

I guess since the human lifespan is finite, the literal answer must be, “No.”

On the other hand:

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. –Psalm 103:6-14 (ESV)

We rely on God’s mercy outweighing His judgment for if it didn’t, then how could anyone survive, even for an instant?

But that doesn’t really answer the question. It’s not as if sin doesn’t have it’s effect.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear. –Isaiah 59:1-2 (ESV)

If God doesn’t seem to be paying attention to us, it’s because we have shut the door between us, not Him.

On the other hand, does arguing with God cause a separation? We have seen times when confronting God has actually been beneficial, such as when Abraham interceded for Sodom, when Jacob wrestled with God, and when Moses pleaded for Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf.

And yet, when God told Abraham to sacrifice the life of Isaac, Abraham didn’t say a word.

So I’m at a loss. How do you know when it is appropriate to contend with God and when you should remain silent and accept what He has said as final?

I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows. I only know that a relationship between a human being and an infinite and Almighty God either requires the human to be completely terrified all of the time and to say and do nothing, or the human must have the freedom to interact and even challenge God at times for there to be a relationship at all.

We are awfully casual with God at times. I suppose we rely on not only His mercy, but on His desire to have intimacy with us. To be intimate requires the ability to not only converse, but to argue, debate, struggle, and even yell. But God isn’t a human being, so how we relate to Him can’t really be the same as how we relate to our spouse or other loved ones.

Yes, I know that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God being aware and that people are worth more to Him than sparrows. I also know anything we ask in Christ’s name will be done for us (though not anything asked frivolously or against the will of God), so we have these as indications of God’s great love for us.

But exactly where is the line that you cannot cross without permanent and irreversible consequences?

Maybe these are questions that should be left unasked or at least unanswered.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post describing God as a teacher, a “bringer of light, wisdom, and understanding,” as opposed to a harsh and punitive judge who elicits only fear from us. Maybe we only receive from God that which we look for, or to put it another way:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. –Galatians 6:6-10 (ESV)

We can choose to fear God and obey Him out of that fear, and perhaps that’s where we all start out, or we can choose to see God as our great teacher who shows us the lessons for good. I suppose like in a yeshiva setting, we sometimes learn by debating our teacher, but only as a mechanism by which we burn away the inconsistencies and “dross” from our understanding.

In the end, we never doubt that what He says and does is for ultimate benefit. And we never doubt that even in our hottest anger or our darkest fears, that He always loves us. And He has taught us that we should always sustain the world while repairing it. That includes repairing who we are as individuals and repairing our relationship with God, sustaining it and not destroying it…and not destroying us.

Imagine a father tutoring his child, as any tutor will teach a student.

The child does well, and the father returns a smile of approval, as any good tutor would do.

Then the father laughs, slapping his child affectionately on the back, and they both laugh together, as only a father and child could do, the father saying in his laugh, “I always have this pride, this delight in you, that you are my child. Now is just my opportunity to show it.”

Above, our Father awaits His opportunity to laugh with us.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Father as Tutor”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Imagine a God and teacher who so loves us that we can also laugh with Him.

Why Does God Make Us Laugh?

OK, the better way to ask that question is, “why did God give us the ability to laugh?” I read a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip this morning (see below) and was struck by the absolute profound nature of the transaction between the two main characters. While Calvin remarks that it seems odd evolution should give us the ability to laugh at absurdity, my perspective allows me to attribute our ability to laugh to God.

Returning to Calvin’s’ question, why do we a laugh at the absurd? Why would God make us so that we would have such a strange physiological response to nonsense and further, why do we seem to enjoy it? It’s like watching an old Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy short comedy film. I still love them, even though in many ways, they are hopelessly archaic…and incredibly silly. They make me laugh.

But while Calvin muses about the survival benefit of laughter in an evolutionary scheme of things, I ask the question of an intelligent and purposeful God. Why do we laugh at the absurdities of life? Directing the question to God makes Hobbes’ answer all the more frightening to me:

I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.

That implies a couple of things. That a lot of what happens to us is nonsensical, absurd, or just plain crazy. And that if we couldn’t laugh at the strangeness of life, we wouldn’t have any other way of responding to it.

I’m not saying that life is endlessly funny. In many ways, life is almost endlessly tragic. Just turn on the local TV news or watch CNN for an hour and you’ll see what I mean. But then again, Calvin and Hobbes aren’t talking about humor, they’re talking about the strange, the bizarre, and probably the tragic and the hopeless. Not that we should laugh at the trouble and hardship of others, but often the only thing we can do when the bizarre little twists and turns of laugh overwhelm us and threaten to engulf us is to laugh.

My friend Joe Hendricks is a perfect example of what I mean. As he and his wife Heidi struggle in their continual wrestling match with cancer, the tool they most often use to combat despair and depression is humor. I’m not sure I’d find that many laughs if I were in their shoes (and I’m sure Heidi’s shoes wouldn’t even come close to fitting, anyway), but it works for them. Maybe it works for us to as we watch them…as I watch them, and feel utterly powerless to do anything to help them.

Is that why God gave us the ability to laugh? So we could also endure our own hideous hardships and the heartbreaking experiences of others without completely falling apart?

I’ve heard it said on many occasions that it’s faith that gets us through the tough times but I wonder if it’s really laughter? I wonder, when push comes to shove, if prayer is the most important way we can respond when faced with the horrible and insane events of our world?

How ironic if the sole purpose of having a sense of humor is to keep us from crying all the time when we’re alone and when we’re hurt and when we’re scared.

And when life makes absolutely no sense at all and we feel completely out of control.

Flight of the Sparrow

Devastating News Today, darn it!

Heidi’s tumor markers not only went up but doubled. So this new chemotherapy failed completely, like the one they tried in December/January. We will hear what option(s) are left sometime tomorrow.

My own outpatient surgery is tomorrow morning at 8am, another unwelcome surprise.

We’re really grateful to all of you for your kindness and support.

My beloved wife has metastatic breast cancer (spread to lungs, bone, liver). I am a prostate cancer survivor and my bladder cancer is in remission. We are both treated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. But we love God, we love life’s adventures, we love our family & friends. And will do so until God takes us Home. We are followers of Christ.

-Joe Hendricks
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2012

I’ve never met Joe and Heidi Hendricks face to face. I suppose I could, since we live only about a day’s drive away from each other. However, through the “magic” of Facebook, I have shared the last few years of their cancer battle together. The photo I’ve posted is number 56 in their scenes from our cancer battle.

The most startling thing for me about photo 56 is that Joe and Heidi aren’t smiling. No, I don’t expect them to smile after such terrible news, but if you go through their “photo album,” even in the most dire of circumstances, they’re always smiling and joking and pressing on through adversity. Humor is almost the last tool to fail when all other tools have long since burned out in the course of such a tremendous physical and emotional drain. I must admit, mine would have been shot through like swiss cheese in a hail storm long before this. But Joe particularly always makes me laugh.

But not today.

Besides their sense of humor, the thing I admire most about Joe and Heidi is their faith. A lot of Christians say they have faith and trust in God…that is, until something really bad happens. Then it all goes flying out the window and it’s “Why did you let this happen to me, God?” and “How could you be so cruel to me, God?” I’m sure I’d be among that group if I had to face the scenes from Joe and Heidi’s cancer battle first hand.

But no matter how grim it’s been for them, they’ve always grasped tightly onto the hand of God and never let go, just as love has bonded Joe and Heidi together and the never let go of each other.

I’m angry. No, not at God…well, not exactly. I don’t who or what I’m angry at. I think it’s that I feel really helpless and frustrated. Sounds strange, eh? There is horrible tragedy happening all over the world. Every day, someone suffers. Every day, someone dies. Every day, some act of injustice is committed, the helpless are victimized and have no defender, the innocent are made to pay for the crimes of the oppressor. It’s a broken world.

But in the face of all that, I’m angry at the news of Joe and Heidi’s cancer battle today. I know the world isn’t fair, but I’m still angry. It isn’t fair.

It’s like my feelings have mass and can be affected by gravity. It’s like the muscles that hold up my feelings are tired and my sadness is a lead weight, pulling my shoulders down and anchoring me to my seat. I feel as if I’m slowly being pulled to the floor. It’s as if my only light is losing its brightness, and I’m just getting more heavy and silent and it’s getting dark all around me.

The light of laughter is going out in the world.

And where is God?

How many people of faith have asked that question across the long stretch of centuries? How many Christians and Muslims and Jews and whoever else have asked God where He went off to when horrible news, disease, injury, and death stalked us one by one? Is this what ancient man felt like, cowering in some cave in the night, listening to the predators crying out at the moon and declaring to the grey, reflected light that they would find you and consume you?

Is that what it feels like knowing that there is a cancer inside of you and it’s taking over and it won’t be chased away?

I’ve heard the words “God is in control” said countless times in countless church services, but what do the words really mean? God is in control, but people still get sick. God is in control but people still get hurt. We’re alone, and we’re scared, and we need to be able to hang on when our strength, and our stamina, and finally our laughter is dried up like the last drop of water feeding the last wilted flower in the brilliant summer sun baking the vast and endless desert.

I realize that there are forces in the world and forces in our body that we can fight but we can’t always control. At some point, no matter how much you put into the struggle, you (I can only imagine, since I haven’t had to face this) have to let your shoulders relax, let the weight pull you down, look up, put your tiny hand in God’s immense grasp and say, “No matter what happens, please don’t go away.”

I hate crying.

God, don’t go away. Stay with Joe and Heidi, no matter what happens. We all want a miracle, but the greatest miracle is that You even care. If not even one tiny sparrow falls to the earth apart from the will of the Father, then You are mindful of Joe and Heidi, for they are worth much, much more than sparrows.

Stay with them God and, if it is Your will, don’t let them fall. Let them fly.