Musings on Mirth and Beauty

March 4, 2009

Have you ever encountered something, anything, that makes you laugh and cry at the same time? Something so beautiful yet also in some way funny? Have you further noticed that these two emotions arise simultaneously (unlike how when you laugh so hard that there are tears in the edge of your eyes?) Yet, even though they are simultaneous, that there is a sense in which beauty is primary and joy is secondary?

In what sense is this true? In what sense is beauty primary and joy secondary? In the zenith of beauty, there is mirth. This is hidden until we get to the very top, for beauty first shatters your heart, while joy seems to mend it. We can experience beauty first, then joy, and be whole in the end. If we experience joy first then beauty, we’ll end up broken. (If we experience joy first and then no beauty, we won’t be put together correctly. We’ll be like Mr. Potato Head with our mouth stuck where eyes should be.)

This theoretical observation fits in with our practical experience of humor. It is quite easy to make crude, distasteful jokes. This isn’t to say there aren’t jokes that are so good, that one can call it art (and hence, beautiful). But our most natural tendency is to laugh AT something, to lower it below ourselves. It is far easier to laugh at someone’s misfortunes than to laugh with someone’s great fortunes. This is also why the ability to laugh at ourselves isn’t far away from genuine humility. The zenith of joy is also beauty, for they both meet at the ends, at this point called Truth. Yet what we find funny and joyful most often drags us down rather than up. We never reach that end.

Beauty on the other hand, tends to pull you up, somewhere higher than you. Beauty leads to admiration, which is only a lower degree of adoration. Where joy tends to drag our eyes downwards, beauty drags it upwards. That is why lovers tremble in each others’ presence; they feel unworthy of belonging to the other. This is why a boy who is infatuated with a girl calls her a goddess. This is why those who saw angels were tempted to worship it; not only are they powerful, but also beautiful.

The best illustration is found in Christ. The life and teachings of Jesus, we find beautiful. We are broken by its truth, by its goodness. Yet, it is so beyond us that we can only admire its beauty; we cannot laugh at it as we would laugh at the words of our friend. Jesus wept openly; he was angered openly as well. We do not know whether he laughed; he likely did, but his mirth is not revealed to us. God’s joy is too magnificent for us. It shines too brightly for us to gaze directly into; that is why Moses had to wear a veil in front of the Israelites. We see this further at the cross. How fitting that a carpenter who worked with nails and wood all his life die on a cross! The soldiers were taunting him and laughing at him. It is easy to make hurtful jokes. Their joy was twisted, debased. Though there will be no joy in hell, their joy led them nearer to it. They were farther away from God than the disciples who could not yet see the beauty of the cross. When we, with the disciples, finally see the beauty of the cross that leads to resurrection, when we are fully cleansed of all our self-aggrandizing, our mirth may finally be restored. The cross was beautiful. But at the end of this beautiful scene of sacrifice, there is endless joy, and endless beauty, in the resurrection. Only at the end of all things, will we finally be able to laugh fully, for we will finally see (and not only know) the punchline. How utterly fitting it is that God would become man, so that man can become god! How utterly joyful that God uses the simple and not the proud! How utterly marvelous that those who lose their life will find it, and those who seek to keep it will lose it!

At the end of it all, there will be both beauty and mirth. But until we get there, beauty is the more natural guide of the two. Our joy is always hidden until it is revealed at the end. We know that there will definitely be adoration in heaven (that will BE heaven), hence there will be a marveling of God’s beauty. There won’t be any tears in our eyes that are from sorrow. But may I suggest that we may still have tears from joy? Might I suggest that there will be great laughter with our eternally happy God than any that we have experienced on earth?

We find joy in unexpected correlations. In the end when we see that we are indeed made in the image of the most beautiful God, there will be much joy indeed.

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