Lamentation and Laughter


To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
-Emily Dickinson

To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession is her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness

-Bob Dylan, Desolation Row

We played wedding songs
And you did not dance
We played funeral songs
And you did not weep

-Jesus, Luke 7:32

Humanity, we have a problem.

If we don’t know anything else, we know this.

To be human is to take the stage in a tragic comedy. One moment it’s laughter, the next it’s lamentation. In one scene we dance with one hand waving free, in the next we trudge along to the doleful sound of a dirge. And so it is.

Religion exists to address the problem of the human condition and more often than not the solution religion comes up with is escape.

Maybe it’s escape through meditation or enlightenment as in Buddhism and Hinduism.
Maybe it’s escape through separation and withdrawal from society as in monasticism and fundamentalism.
Maybe it’s escape through death or an eschatological event as in dualism and dispensationalism.

And as is so often the case, religion (as a human invention) gets it wrong and only mires us deeper in the problem. To deal with the problem of the human condition by escape does what? Forces us to flee from what we are. And if we flee from being human we become, what? Certainly not what we are meant to be.

God’s solution is just the opposite of escape. God’s solution was to join the human race.

Merry Christmas!

Jesus’ ultimate mission was to make human life livable.

(Think about that! It’s true.)

The only way human life could be made livable was to solve the sin problem and the only way that could be done was for God to join the human race. To save humanity God had to become human. To save the world the Word had to become incarnate. Our salvation is a flesh and blood salvation.

Please don’t think there was an infinite amount of ways for God to save humanity. There was not. There was one way. This is why the cup of suffering could not be withdrawn from the Son of God as he struggled with it in the Garden of Gethsemane.

(If escape from humanness was refused Jesus in Gethsemane, it will be refused us as well.)

Salvation is the result of God joining the human race in Christ and making human life livable. And the effect of salvation upon us is not escape from the human race, but the joining of the human race and the living of a fully human life.

In popular culture the religious are often parodied as repressed people incapable or unwilling to enter into the full range of human experience. There is truth in this. It was certainly the case with the Pharisees (and their tribe has not yet perished from the earth).

The Pharisaical separatist movement was undoubtedly influenced by Greek Stoicism. Stoicism developed in Athens about the same time as Buddhism was emerging in the East. Both philosophies teach detachment (or escape) as the primary means of avoiding pain. But to detach from desire is to detach from life, humanity and ultimately God. This is why escapist, other-worldly, detached spirituality can never be true to the life that Christ came to bring. It is the inhuman religion of the Pharisees and not the human life of Christ.

Jesus compared the separatist Pharisees to children who wouldn’t play nice. In frustration their playmates say,

We played wedding songs
And you didn’t dance
We played funeral songs
And you didn’t weep.

Religion does that. It make people flat. Detached. Prosaic.
The opposite of the prophets who were dynamic, engaged, poetic.
This is why the Pharisees accused Jesus and John the Baptist of being either drunkards or demoniacs.
Of course they were neither.
What they were was alive, engaged and capable of living a fully human life.
They knew lamentation and laughter.
The dirge and the dance.
The Pharisees knew neither.
They only knew inhuman, lifeless, prosaic, flatness.

Their profession is their religion
Their sin is their lifelessness

Remember how the self-satisfied Pharisee prayed “to himself” in the Temple?

I thank you that I am not like other men.
(Luke 18:11)

In a sense the self-satisfied Pharisee spoke truly.

Translation: “I thank myself, to whom I pray, that I am not human.”

The smug, self-satisfied, separatist Pharisee had succeeded in escaping the human race.
He had also succeeded in escaping salvation.
He knew neither the lamentation of repentance nor the laughter of redemption.
His hardened heart could not be wrung with pain nor could it soar with pleasure.
The separatist religionist had succeeded in becoming less than human.
Truly he could say, “I am not like other men.”

This is why Pharisees couldn’t (and still can’t!) hang out with anyone but their own sect.
Jesus was just the opposite! And this why humans were drawn to Jesus…and he to them.
The question isn’t whether Jesus was fully human? (Sound doctrine answers that question with a resounding Yes!)
The question is whether the Pharisees were fully human? And the answer is they seem to be less than that.
No lamentation. No laughter.
No pain. No pleasure.
No dirge. No dance.

We must not be like that. We must not separate ourselves from the human race. We must not seek a religious escape from humanity. We must enthusiastically join the human race with faith’s conviction that in Christ we are given a new way to be human. For the time being that will mean we are subject to seasons of lamentation and the human experience of sorrow. But we also hold to the promise of a time when all tears will be wiped away. Not in a cheap escapism, but in the restoration of all things accomplished by the One who is the Solution.

I choose, not to escape from the human race, but to share in humanity with those around me in the hope that my life might be a connecting point with the healing I have found in Jesus Christ.

God, please make me more human.
Like Jesus.



(Play nice.)