“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false. Now, there are a good many things that would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but [there are a good many things] that I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever.”
By sobriety, I mean serious-minded. Not given to frivolity.
Did you ever meet a serious-minded teenager? someone not interested in extracurricular activities, dating, dancing, or “having fun”? Well, I’ve been serious-minded (adultlike) all my life, even in my youth—as were some of my classmates. Not all teenagers are shallow. I’ve never cared much for amusement, games, humor, jokes, pranks, or even television, movies, or video games, though I do occasionally watch educational programming. If it’s narrated by Peter Coyote or David McCullough, I’d probably like it.
Life was not meant to be fun. It was meant to be serious. And if someone is trying to make your life fun, then he is trying to amuse you or keep you from thinking (musing).
Neither was life meant to be happy. It was meant to be contemplative. And if you are looking for happiness, then you will end up disappointed, because sooner or later—Judgement Day, if not before—you will have to come to grips with serious reality.
A few years ago TBN-TV came out with a light-headed film, The Revolutionary (1995), about an air-headed “Jesus,” portraying Him as an “ordinary” guy, meaning someone like themselves, I guess (broad-daylight-headed). And this mindless, fun-loving “Jesus” was prancing around, behaving the way 21st-century Americans reared on television or poppy seeds might behave—illustrative of a TBN mind-set. Someone was eager to bring Jesus down to his own level, but was this the way Jesus was?
The foreign-made film Jesus of Nazareth (1977) was a reverent depiction of Jesus. What we see from director Franco Zeffirelli is that Jesus was sober-minded: given to contemplation. Zeffirelli’s historical, biblical Jesus never smiled or laughed. He was always serious.
Smiling, grinning, frowning, and similar facial expressions, by the way, are cultural, not universal. Smile, grin, or frown never occur in the KJV. This may indicate that such facial expressions never occurred in the lives of the Middle-Eastern Scripture writers or in the lives of Renaissance Bible translators.
Typically, throughout Scripture, laughter has negative connotations: to laugh means “to scorn” or “to make fun of a person or an idea.” Abraham and Sarah, a couple of senior citizens, both laughed when they heard they were going to have a son (Genesis 17:17; 18:12)—what an absurdity! Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem laughed, or poked fun, at the idea of the Jews rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:19). Job, an upright man, was “laughed to scorn” because of his suffering (Job 12:4). The Jews lamented that “our enemies laugh among themselves” (Psalm 80:6). The multitude laughed at the idea of Jesus even attempting to resuscitate the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:53)—whoever heard of such a thing?
When God laughs, it means He is having the last laugh over the folly of the ungodly: “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord will have them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). “When the wicked plots against the just, the Lord will laugh at him, for He sees that his day is coming” (37:12, 13). “The righteous also shall see [the punishment of the ungodly] and shall laugh at him” (52:6). “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance” (58:10). “But You, O Lord, shall laugh at them; You will have all the heathen in derision” (59:8). The Spirit says, “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes” (Proverbs 1:26).
Only occasionally in the Bible does laughter refer to happiness (Psalm 126:2; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Luke 6:21) or have positive connotations. More often laughter or jesting is the behavior of “party animals,” “lounge lizards,” or those whom the Bible calls “fools” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3; 7:5, 6; 10:19). “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).
If you have to choose between laughing and crying, choose tears, for “sorrow [or sobriety, serious-mindedness] is better than laughter” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). “Let your laughter be turned to mourning” (James 4:9). Be serious.
Yet, strangely, even the word serious does not appear in the KJV. And sober and its variants (soberly, soberness, sobriety) are only Pauline or Petrine. More often, the thought of serious- or sober-mindedness is couched in such terms as “sorrow,” “mourning,” or “think.”
Paul enjoins his readers to “think soberly” (Romans 12:3) and to “watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8); women, to adorn themselves with “shamefacedness [quietness] and sobriety [sensibility]” (1 Timothy 2:9, 15); bishops and their wives, to be “sober” (3:2, 11; Titus 1:8); aged men, young women, and young men, to be “sober” (2:2, 4, 6); and us, to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly” (2:12). Scripture is not talking about strong drink, specifically, though abstinence should be obvious; it’s talking about being sensible or serious-minded.
Peter tells us to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober” (1 Peter 1:13), “be sober and watch unto prayer” (4:7), “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour” (5:8).
Paul says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Even “the thought of foolishness is sin” (Proverbs 24:9). Therefore, “it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). “The thoughts of the righteous are right” (Proverbs 12:5), but “the thoughts of the wicked are an abomination” (15:26). “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; the thoughts of the hasty, to want” (21:5).
Despite the biblical injunctions, today’s “Christians” are almost as shallow as the world in wanting to “put on a happy face.” The verses they are more apt to reference are those that talk about what God can do for you—“He has turned my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11)—than what He expects from you—“Submit yourselves to God … Draw nigh to God … Cleanse your hands … purify your hearts … Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep … Humble yourselves … for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:7-10, 6; cf 1 Peter 5:5, 6).
Considering the lateness of the hour (dispensation), that the light is fast closing in, and midnight is almost upon us, it is high time we got serious not only about this life but about the next life. For “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness.” If He tarries—and we see that He has tarried 2,000 years, and is still tarrying—the reason is that He “is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” However long He waits, you can be sure of one thing: “The day of the Lord will come.” It will come. It will come “as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise and the elements will melt with fervent heat. The earth and the works in it will be burned up. Seeing then that all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy lifestyle and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:9-11).
Child of God, it is high time we turned off the sit-coms, cut the chatter, and sobered up.
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me. ~Robert Browning Hamilton
“The total absence of humor from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all literature.” ~Alfred North Whitehead
Copyright © 2013 Alexandra Lee