Isn't it unloving for God to mock the calamity of sinners?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: How can a loving God (Jesus) laugh and mock at the calamity of sinners? I am looking specifically at Proverbs 2:26 and Psalm 2 but there are many others.

Answer: It will be my pleasure to answer your question today, but allow me to do some housekeeping first. I’m assuming that you meant to cite Proverbs 1:26 since that verse has your phrasing, and Proverbs 2:26 does not exist. Yes, I agree that many verses of Scripture show God laughing at the calamity of sinners or fools, and I can see how you might be wondering how a loving God (1 John 4:8) can do such a thing. After all, “[love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, ESV) — and don’t these passages with God laughing show him almost partying over the result of foolishness? That is the question that I shall answer, so I pray that I have picked up your tone correctly.

First, we must understand that God is a spirit-being as opposed to a flesh-and-blood-being. Yes, Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), but this event was future to all the Old Testament writings. Therefore, when God is the literary voice behind such a passage, we must keep in mind that he is still a spirit-being. As such, he has no ears to hear, no eyes to see and no mouth with which to laugh. In Psalm 2 the author used a common literary device called an anthropomorphism, which assigns human characteristics to non-human entities. So, when we see God laughing in Scripture, he is not actually laughing — either in heaven or on earth — but this is the best way to show us humans what his attitude is toward those who have fallen by their own folly. As such, we should never think of God’s figurative laughing as equivalent to human laughing in every aspect. Because with us, laughter, even in derision, always involves sin. But with God, it can never involve sin.

Furthermore, all of God’s attributes attain to infinite perfection within him, therefore, not one of them can contradict any other of them. But more germane to this discussion, none of them have to stop working before he engages another. As to your question, God’s love and his justice run simultaneously. His love does not stop, because it cannot stop. For example, when calamity catches up with a child molester and he goes to jail for his crimes, that is an act of love to children everywhere. When such a person reaps the logical result of his sin, that is God laughing in derision. There is no actual laugh. The fact that this sinner received his comeuppance is the laugh. This is a burst of totally different laughter than is common to humans, so we must be careful not to attach the pejoratives associated with our laughter to this figurative laughter… but not for theological reasons. For literary ones.

When a writer compares two objects by using metaphor, anthropomorphism and the like, he is only responsible for the stated comparison. For example, let’s say that my house was robbed last night and the police asked me if I saw or heard anything unusual. If I responded, “No. He was a mouse!” everyone would understand that I meant that he was silent and that he came while I slept — not that he was tiny, furry and beady-eyed. But this is how people often read the Bible. They stretch out its metaphors and other figures beyond the author’s intent and find a fault that does not exist. That is what you have done here. God’s laugh is never nasty. It is always appropriate — perfect, in fact — for communicating his derision, and this lives peaceably beside his love.

Note also that Proverbs 1 is a poem as opposed to a section of narrative text or to a command like “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13, ESV). We understand Exodus 20:13 to be a direct command not to murder, and we should interpret this command directly and adopt it behaviorally. However, books like Proverbs and Psalms are in the form of wisdom literature. These are gentler and more poetic works than are found in the Pentateuch, and we must listen to them with a softer ear because their job is to instruct more so than to command. When reading Proverbs 1, you should picture yourself at the feet of a wise and godly teacher. As such, you must take in the whole lesson before challenging its parts. For instance, let us consider the purpose of Proverbs chapter one.

“To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:2–6, ESV)

Such a teacher may tell you some challenging things, but he will never teach you “bad” things about God. If you read it that way, you are out of genre… and you are picking a fight. Biblical synergy, which is the Bible’s parts working together to create a greater whole, demands that God be interpreted as the “good guy” no matter how you feel about his behavior at a point in time. You must purpose yourself to “work with him” throughout the book or you too will be kicking against the goads (Acts 26:14).

Additionally, Proverbs 1:20-33 makes use of another literary tool called personification. These verses describe wisdom as a woman. So, your verse 26 is really from the voice of this woman called wisdom and not from the (anthropomorphic) lips of God (except, of course, that all Scripture comes from his lips, so to speak). But literally, he is not even the one doing the laughing here. It is wisdom-personified who will do the laughing. She shall laugh at the rebels who spurned her, and this too is entirely appropriate.

Finally, notice that this Proverb ends in hope, not in despair. Although fools will be punished (and there is nothing joyous therein) even they may turn to wisdom. God lets fools choose whether or not to be foolish. In fact, he must — or else violate their free will. The fact that Proverbs 1 begins and ends with a call to wisdom qualifies everything in its middle as being good. Think about it. A fool can never be forced to become wise. But, until the end of his days, he may choose to be redeemed from folly. That sounds like the workings of a loving God to me.

“but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
(Proverbs 1:33, ESV).

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