Why So Serious?
The wise man knows that the last thing our souls need in the face of doom is more seriousness.
No matter which way I look, it seems that every person has an opinion about the doom of the world. Some say law and order are too harsh and will undercut the rights of man. Others say that unselfish altruism is the sure route to chaos. The claim that Socrates was the wisest man alive because he claimed that he knew nothing is madness to one side and ridiculous to the other. However, perhaps Socrates’ greatest wisdom came from ignoring both sides. While we can all agree that doom is at our doorstep—because apparently, happiness is ultimately in proportion to our constant need to remind one another of that fact—we often disagree on the cure for, or at least the curtailing of, a mad world. Many people on both sides can't help but give themselves headaches over the search for answers; it seems that the new virtue of the intelligentsia is seriousness.
I remember once when I was about twelve years old, my whole extended family went on a camping trip together. We had six or seven tents out, and the weekend began with sunshine, fishing, and cooking over a crackling fire. We laughed with each other, we explored, and of course, we ate to our fill. However, that night, with one crack of thunder, our enjoyment was interrupted by a deluge and almost every tent was flooded, not from the top of the tent but from beneath. The flood waters came and many of us found ourselves floating on great ships, or as we normally call them, air mattresses. Our camp quickly turned from a celebration to pandemonium.
The beauty of the situation was that my wise grandmother, whose humor was and still is a pride of the family, could be heard laughing right through the rolling thunder. She saw the floating members of her family, still in their pajamas, looking like Little Nemo in Slumberland, and rather than focusing on the predicament, she enjoyed it. Where we could have easily started fighting for shelter, instead we laughed our way through what could have been a terrible evening. To me, this made my grandmother one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. It is the part of the wise to not take everything so serious, and this is perhaps why the modern intelligentsia can indeed be categorized as clever—but certainly not wise.
While the world is heading toward doom, which seems to be in its very nature, the serious man ruffles his brow and reminds the world that he was right all along; but the wise man ruffles his brow and reminds the world that Christ has already defeated the doom. The serious man points his finger across the bow and reminds the world where the other camp went wrong; the wise man points his finger in the mirror and can’t help but laugh. The serious man can’t wait for the world to burn so that he can be proved right; the wise man sees the flame and is reminded of the Christians who sang and laughed as they were burned at the stake. The serious man reads the stars as a warning; the wise man reads the stars as a mystery. It is as if the serious man has forgotten the words of Christ’s joy to focus on his anger, while the wise man knows Christ’s anger very well but also knows that he is probably the cause of it.
The first thing the serious might say to the wise is “Get your head out of the sand.” But the wise man might answer that the sand offers a quiet place to think. It isn’t that the wise man doesn’t know or care about the doom of the world; he just knows that the state of the world is a replication of the state of our souls, and the last thing our souls need in the face of doom is more seriousness. The wise man prefers the weapons of argument and charity over polemics and finger-pointing. The wise man holds law as a patriot and might be willing to fight and die for it, not for the sake of the law itself but for the sake of those underneath it. The wise fully understands just punishment for unjust actions. However, his wisdom comes in that he is also the first man to stand up for forgiveness and mercy. Where the serious might call him bipolar in the psychological sense, he proudly boasts bipolarism in the virtuous sense.
Man has been predicting his own doom since he left that garden of knowledge. When the Vikings raided Northumbria, when Attila the Hun sacked most of the known world, when an atomic bomb decimated hundreds of thousands of people, mankind knew that doom was not far off. Our society is no different, except that ours is an ideological doom. Man knows in the depths of his soul that something is off-kilter. The increase of violence and vitriol towards one another can only be ignored by the very daft. Both the wise and the serious have recognized the problems of our age. Diagnosis has been agreed upon. However, it is the wise man to whom we must look to for the cure. The serious Pharisees of Christ’s age might’ve thought that following three wise sages who spend their time gazing at the stars would be foolishness, and that silly shepherds claiming to see angels is no indication of where we ought to go. We need more wisdom in the form of my grandmother, who would’ve laughed to find that God directed the least expected of people toward the embodiment of wisdom itself. That in the torrent of doom and rain, we all look ridiculous.
Our world is indeed hurting; however, the cure is found in the wisdom of a God who lies in a manger with animals who are unable to take themselves so seriously.