Formations 08.16.2020: Laughing through Tears

Ecclesiastes 7:1-6

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was applauded as a groundbreaking TV program. Despite the fantastical premise—a teenage girl who fights vampires—the show explored characters and emotions in ways that aren’t common even today.

In one memorable scene, Giles, Buffy’s former mentor, returns to the show because things have gone terribly wrong. Buffy, now a young woman, explains all of this to her father figure. Her best friend has become an unstoppable villain. Every major member of the cast has made terrible decisions and now have to live with the consequences. Buffy herself is wracked with self-loathing over bad choices that she has made.

Giles silently takes it all in, and the camera pulls in so we can see his reaction. Will he scold Buffy? Will he impart some words of wisdom?

Instead, he erupts in laughter. It starts as a titter, which he tries and fails to hold back. Soon he is laughing out loud, and before long, Buffy is laughing with him.

The two eventually pull themselves together and get on with addressing the problem at hand, but that moment of emotional catharsis was something Buffy—and all the fans who have watched her suffer—has needed for a long time.

Laughter can be healing, but only when it’s appropriate. That is at least part of what we learn in today’s passage from Ecclesiastes. Laughter is good, but foolish laughter is not. We can laugh to cope with an untenable situation, or we can laugh to avoid our responsibility to act. We can laugh with people or we can laugh at them. Laughter can be therapy for a wounded soul, or it can twist the knife of scorn and derision.

Those who are familiar with Ecclesiastes won’t be surprised at the writer’s skeptical, jaded tone. He is aware of all of life’s possibilities: at any moment, one can find both joy and sadness. The two are intimately connected. Therefore, the best one can hope for is a good name that will endure after death.

Wise people know this and accept that even gladness has its limitations. “The laughter of fools” (v. 6) is oblivious to the troubles of the world.

Sometimes a wise person can only laugh through tears.


• When is laughter inappropriate? What are some examples of people laughing when they shouldn’t?
• What is the relationship between laughter and sorrow?
• What does the writer mean by saying, “By sadness of countenance the heart is made glad” (v. 3)? What is it about sadness that makes true happiness possible?
• What is foolish laughter, and why should it be avoided?
• Is it possible to be truly glad despite the troubles of our world? Explain.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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