I like reading G.K. Chesterton. I like reading his mysteries and his romances, but I also like reading his theologies. About anyone who is not Chesterton, I might say, I also like reading his more serious books. Not so for Chesterton’s fiction and nonfiction. They are all serious, and they are all mysterious, and all romantic, and all comedic. There is the very right feeling, when I read him, that to write a romance so it rings true and brings a smile to your face is the same ideal for writing theology; it should also ring true and bring a smile to your face. Good theology should make you not only worship God, but forget yourself enough to laugh. The best romances I have ever read are the ones where I forget myself, the reader with certain desires that need to be met, and wholly rejoice in the adventure taking place on the page.
At my church we had a guest speaker whose primary desire, it seemed, was to make everyone be more serious. We were to shun the entertainment of the world, horrible temptations, and violence which makes Rome seem less and less barbaric. In his list of entertainments that drive us away from God was fly fishing. Now, I can’t really see too much of a correlation between fly fishing and the games at the Roman Coliseum. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. I suppose, if someone were to go out fly fishing with the intent of indulging murderous, lecherous thoughts, and deny the sanctity of human life, that could make it similar to the gladiatorial games. Or if you look at it from the point of view of the fly.
I’ve never been fly fishing, but I have been fishing. Not in a long time, but I remember it well. I remember sitting out in a little boat, silent, sitting there so long that time became nothing. I had no idea how long I had been there, and no idea how much longer I would be there, and it was good. There were clouds to watch, as they drifted across the sky, and there were ducks and turtles and fish in the water. Once, I saw a bald eagle fly over and land in a tree near the lake. I can remember the good, clean air, and the way the wind would pull at my hat, and the thrill when that tug came on the line. I can remember sitting out on that lake for hours, and watching the sky grow dark and the sun set behind the stately pines that hemmed in the lake. How is that like the Coliseum?
Chesterton says seriousness is closer to a heresy than a virtue. Seriousness makes us so concerned with ourselves and with our pride and our ability to do what is right, that we can’t laugh. We have a very wrong idea about God, and His mercy, if we can’t laugh. We need to laugh at ourselves, and we need to laugh in pure joy, as children do. Children can be happy and forgetful of themselves, when they are really enjoying a good thing. There is something right and good about being entertained, if that entertainment can lead us to forget ourselves and our selfish ambitions, and laugh and rejoice in the glory of God. I’m not saying all entertainment is equally helpful in leading us to worship God, but there’s no reason to lump fly fishing in with gladiatorial games.
The issue, I suppose, is our hearts. We would rather ban fly fishing and football and ballet, and try to sit at home and not be amused by the world, than sort through what is really good and brings glory to God, and what is really sin and makes us see other humans as objects and makes God cry. It’s easier to forbid everything than laugh and risk being wrong. But if we truly believed in a loving, merciful God, in a Christ who died to save us and will keep hold of us until our last day, it would be easier to laugh at ourselves. It would be easier to rejoice in the little, inane things that make us happy. There’s a huge difference between fly fishing and watching gladiators kill each other.