Girls and boys just want to have fun – to experience the joy that all is right with the world. We long for the feeling God had at creation when God declared the created order to be “very good.” And the great truth of human existence is that is exactly what God promises. The Prophet Zechariah’s vision of the end is “streets of the city full of boys and girls playing.” (3:8) When God “wipes away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4) can it get any better?
The feeling of health after an illness is fun. A miracle of healing from a disease is a lot of fun. When two people in a broken relationship reconcile, there is jubilation. When wars cease, there is dancing in the streets. When someone feels forgiven, there are tears of joy. The sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life is unspeakable joy. And God promises all these things in Christ. It is the gift of salvation and it is announced in church.
Once, I began a funeral for a beloved member of the church before the grieving widow entered the room. As she entered, I choked out an apology; and, I noticed the family beaming with joy. Some were even laughing. After the service, the widow explained, “He always joked with me that I would be late for my own funeral. Turns out it was his funeral. It was like a message from God that everything in his realm is good.”
Psalm 16 affirms:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
There are limits on this earth to the fun. We wait patiently for the day when it will be complete. Until then, we struggle against the forces of evil which continue to block the joy. The battle is also in the church. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” In the church the weapon of choice is words.
Words are like darts. If they hit us in the wrong place, all fun is removed. We are especially vulnerable in the church, where we expose our deepest self, perhaps none deeper than the confession of sin. If at this most sensitive point, we sense any haughtiness or belittling or badgering from another in the church, the wounds can be debilitating. The danger is present and there is no solution. Every rose has thorns. No one can tame the tongue.
James 3:5-8 warns:
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Our calling in this world is to join in the creative and redemptive work of God. Frederick Beuchner in his book, Whistling in the Dark, imagines how God started all this enjoyment:
“Hurling the stars around like confetti at a parade, gathering the waters together into the seas like a woman gathering shells, calling forth all the creatures of earth and air like a man calling “Swing your partner!” at a hoedown. ’Be fruitful and multiply!’ God calls, and creator and creature both all but lose track of which is which in the wonder of their playing.”
Sometimes we get the wrong definition of fun. Destructive behavior inflicted on oneself or others will ultimately lack the lasting joy. When someone says, “We are having a good time now;” it may be an early assessment that will change.
Playful fun should be redemptive and life-giving. The well-being of shalom best describes the fun we seek with all of our heart. It is like the sound of children playing in a pool, baptized and cleansed, joyful and grateful.
Thanks, Harlan! Reading your words brings me joy; I miss your presence and your words back here in northwest Iowa.
I look forward to learning what true joy and fun will be like in heaven!