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The Long View

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 27, July-September 2002.

WE all know the caricature. Dark suits. Dismal faces. A strict, self-righteous, joyless lifestyle. This is what Calvinists are like apparently, especially the Presbyterian variety. Clearly they are out of touch with the modern world. They do not fit in to today's society at all.

It never was a true picture of course. Believers in Jesus Christ have every reason to be joyful and they are. After all, they know Him whom to know is life eternal. By faith they have embraced the Saviour and all the promises of God which "in him are yea, and in him Amen" (2Cor.1:20). They have a full salvation from what their sins deserve. They have not yet seen Christ with their bodily eyes, as they will one day soon, but even now they have "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1Pet.1:9).

The Christian enjoys God. He rejoices within his soul. By the Holy Spirit he grows in this precious grace. This joy is not to be confused with mere laughter or humour. It does not always manifest itself as a wide grin or a beaming smile, for as Peter also reminds us, in this life God's children may be "in heaviness through manifold temptations." While the believer may see an amusing side to some things in this life, levity (and its close cousin vulgarity) have no place in the kingdom of God.

The world enjoys itself. It likes to laugh a great deal. It rejoices in its belly – and mistakes this for the real joy which continually eludes it. While laughter is in itself quite harmless what we cannot approve of are the many foolish efforts of our fellow men to make light of the weighty issues of life. This is a misuse of mirth and surely one of the marks of our godless age.

See it all around you. The one thing that people just cannot be serious about is the most serious thing of all – religion. Let us scorn the Scriptures! Let us poke fun at preachers! Let us deride the Deity! Such is the attitude which prevails when literally nothing is sacred any more. The reality of death, judgment and eternity must be avoided at all costs: this is one way in which it is attempted.

Tragically a similar spirit has entered the church. There is a new 'regulative principle' of worship today: only what makes people happy is to be allowed in the house of God. Are there children to instruct? We must give them plenty of fun! Have we young people to hold on to? Let's be sure to keep them amused! Is there a need for evangelism? Be careful not to offend anyone! Are the services poorly attended? We must make the gospel more entertaining! And so it goes on.

It is just so completely unfitting. Imagine a newsreader making witty comments while announcing grave news to his audience. Or a doctor cracking jokes while delivering his diagnosis and remedy to a patient who is desperately ill. The very thought is absurd. Yes, the gospel is "good tidings of great joy" but it comes to men and women who need to know that they are sinners under God's wrath and curse. May the Lord restore to our generation its sense of sobriety.