When I was a girl, adults would often cast approving glances my way and remark, “What a little lady she is!” They did not say these things about my younger sister. While I sat with ankles neatly crossed, my sister tended to sprawl, her two French braids falling into her eyes as she considered her next bouncy escapade. I don’t think anyone was surprised when she grew up to become the life of the party. Meanwhile, the students at my alma mater wore t-shirts with the university’s name, followed by “Where Fun Goes to Die.” I probably do not need to tell you that these days my children refer to my younger sister as “the fun aunt.”
My subdued personality may earn me few points with the kids, but I know it sometimes gives me an unfair advantage in the eyes of others. As a teenager, I was in high demand for babysitting, and I was the youngest lifeguard ever promoted to head guard at our city pool. Today, I am often asked to serve in roles of responsibility in church and Christian ministry. I’d like to think these invitations come my way because I am a spiritually mature individual, but the fact that my laugh is neither loud nor boisterous probably doesn’t hurt. After all, we know that Jesus wept, but did He laugh?
If Christlikeness is our shared goal within His church, it makes sense to ask whether or not Jesus had fun, as trivial as that question may seem. Some of us will promptly shout, “Well, of course He did!” Others of us might not be so sure. Perhaps He had fun in the days before His public ministry began? But, then, that 12-year-old boy who stayed behind in the temple seems awfully serious to me.
The question is worth our consideration because a significant portion of our human experience seems to hang in its balance. I know my sister’s energy and playfulness have value, but do they have some particular spiritual value? A cursory look at Scripture isn’t very helpful. When I first started asking this question, I ran a quick computer-aided Bible search for the word fun. I didn’t really expect to find it—fun seems like such a modern concept—yet it still came as a shock when the search engine spat out a half-dozen mentions … of the word funeral.
I’ve always preferred tragedies over comedies. I choose sad songs over cheerful, and for several years I taught a college literature class on the elegy—a form of memorial poem. My personal bent toward the melancholy side of life means that I am quite familiar with certain scriptures. I know that in Ecclesiastes we learn, “Sorrow is better than laughter” (Eccl. 7:3). I know that Jesus said, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 NIV). And I know that Jesus Himself was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). I am no longer surprised to find that I consistently feel nearest to Jesus in times of sadness.
However, as much as I love Isaiah’s depiction of a Christ who meets us in our human heartaches, the Bible stories of Jesus’ ministry do not portray a one-dimensional man of melancholy. Far from it. Jesus is serious, certainly, but at times He is serious in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. He not only attends a wedding but also performs His first public miracle there. He seems to spend a great deal of time reclining at tables. He thinks about the details of food and sleep. He demonstrates a desire to gather with others and to slip away on His own. He takes seriously the apparently inconsequential aspects of human life and society. He seems fully, and astonishingly, human.
And what could be more inconsequential than fun?
Perhaps the question of whether Jesus was a fun-loving man is one we may never answer satisfactorily. Yet the Jesus we see in the Gospels does prompt me to reconsider my whole approach to the topic. I began by asking whether such things as laughter, gladness, and playfulness have some particular spiritual value. But what, exactly, do I mean by “value”? Jesus showed us in so many ways that our whole notion of value may be upside down. We value the sober experience of years, but Jesus told us we must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3). We admire the respectability of wealth and are tempted to blame the poor for their own poverty, yet Jesus told us that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23). We value thrift and attentive tithing, but Jesus welcomed the extravagant gesture of pricey perfume poured out on His feet.
Jesus overturns accepted wisdom, but we do not walk His way by adding “Have fun” to our daily list of to-dos. We must not try to wedge 10 minutes of fun between Bible reading and tooth flossing. Instead, we should invite Jesus to upend our notions of what counts as useful and what seems merely useless. Only then can we embrace the fullness of our humanity as Jesus, God’s own Son, embraced it for our sake.
We hope the world will look at us and see Christ. Yet if we pursue only the important and serious tasks of life, we will never mirror Christ to the world. We should embrace fun precisely because it challenges the idols we so often make of our own productivity, utility, and efficiency. Jesus had only three years to complete His world-changing mission, yet He always made time for the small and inconsequential (children and beggars), the pleasurable (celebrations and relaxing meals shared with friends), and many other things that can seem, at worst, useless, and at best, only filler for our spare time.
To have fun may seem a foolish priority, yet “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20). Fun isn’t simply good for you. It is, like so much of our humble human experience, simply good.
Illustrations by Adam Cruft