Laughter and Weeping

Laughter and weeping are both, to use Berger's term, "signals of transcendence" -  punctuations in the story of human life that reveal our belief in Something beyond us. Christians teach that these punctuations expose that we are eschatological creatures who lean forward into life with an ineradicable and fundamental sense of expectation and longing for what is above and before us, for what we are for. In fact, Christians would affirm that laughter and weeping are only intelligible in a world in which the Creator has created us to image the inexhaustible delight within the communion of the Trinity and in the relationship of the Trinity to the aesthetic wonder of creation. We also hold that human beings are apocalyptic creatures whose eschatological existence is historical rather than merely (as in ahistorically) metaphysical: since Gen. 3, we exist in a mode of waiting for a particular historical reality, the Day of the LORD in its fullness, which contains in itself all the bliss and the horror of both sides of our covenant possibilities in relation to our Creator and Judge.

Laughter and weeping are moments in which our efforts to suppress these truths about ourselves momentarily and spectacularly fail. The connection we always have with the invisible, the glorious, and the divine erupts, against our better judgment as materialists and naturalists (in atheistic terms). We only slip back into our delusions about being disconnected from that world as soon as we "come back to our senses" which is, ironically, a departure from and suppression of our real senses.

Hobbes, in Leviathan (Bk 1, ch. 6), wrestles with this same dynamic, and also appears to regard laughter and weeping as two faces of the same kind of phenomenon. We could say that, for him too, both are unexpected, sudden bursts out into the open of the eschatological and apocalyptic core of human being:

Joy arising from imagination of a man’s own power and ability is that exultation of the mind which is called GLORYING: which, if grounded upon the experience of his own former actions, is the same withConfidence: but if grounded on the flattery of others, or only supposed by himself, for delight in the consequences of it, is called VAINEGLORY: which name is properly given; because a well-grounded Confidence begetteth attempt; whereas the supposing of power does not, and is therefore rightly called vain.

Griefe, from opinion of want of power, is called DEJECTION of mind.

The vain-glory which consisteth in the feigning or supposing of abilities in ourselves, which we know are not, is most incident to young men, and nourished by the Histories or Fictions of Gallant Persons; and is corrected oftentimes by Age and Employment.

Sudden Glory is the passion which maketh those Grimaces called LAUGHTER; and is caused either by some sudden act of their own that pleaseth them; or by the apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves. And it is incident most to them that are conscious of the fewest abilities in themselves; who are forced to keep themselves in their own favour by observing the imperfections of other men. And therefore much Laughter at the defects of others is a sign of Pusillanimity. For of great minds one of the proper works is to help and free others from scorn, and compare themselves only with the most able.

On the contrary, Sudden Dejection is the passion that causeth WEEPING; and is caused by such accidents as suddenly take away some vehement hope, or some prop of their power: and they are most subject to it that rely principally on helps external, such as are Women and Children. Therefore, some weep for the losse of Friends; others for their unkindnesse; others for the sudden stop made to their thoughts of revenge, by Reconciliation. But in all cases, both Laughter and Weeping are sudden motions, Custome taking them both away. For no man Laughs at old jests, or Weeps for an old calamity.