By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I recently experienced something called “holy laughter” (as it was explained to me by a friend at church), but I cannot find any Scripture to back up what I was told. Is this a biblical term or something related to hysterical behavior? Does this somehow tie into speaking in tongues? Is this something I should be doing or not?
I am familiar with the term “Holy Laughter,” having heard it in the context of some extremely charismatic spiritual practices. I’ll be glad to share what I’ve learned, but let me begin by stating that as far as I can determine, not one single Bible verse verifies or even mentions the concept of “holy laughter.”
Of course, many verses refer to joy, singing, praising, uplifted hands, and dancing as manifestations of our response to and worship of the God we adore. King David had a wonderful time rejoicing and “dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (2 Samuel 6:14-15).
I believe that if someone rooted in God’s Word and enjoying His presence is suddenly overcome with laughter, well, to me that’s great. I’ve chuckled at the incredible creativity in His creation … really, an elephant’s trunk is just funny. And genuine joy, Christ-centered happiness, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Laughter in the Bible
Laughter is addressed a number of times in the Bible. Often it is used to describe a mocking or scornful response, as was the case with Abraham and Sarah who laughed when God told them they would bear a child in their old age.
Some verses use it as a sign of derision (Psalm 59:8; Psalm 80:6; Proverbs 1:26), and still others make pointed statements about the nature of laughter itself. Solomon made the following observation in Ecclesiastes 2:2: “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’”
However, that’s not the Holy Laughter you are asking about.
Where did “Holy Laughter” Originate?
The term "holy laughter" was coined to describe a phenomenon during which a person laughs uncontrollably, presumably as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit's joy. It is characterized by peals of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes accompanied by swooning or falling down to the floor.
Holy Laughter has a history. The first recorded instances occurred during the First and Second Great Awakenings during the 18th and 19th centuries. While preaching in America in the late 1700s, the phenomenon of Holy Laughing burst forth during John Wesley’s series of revivals. At first, he considered it to be “of the devil.” However, after several observations, he considered that in some ways it may be the result of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Laughter today is occasionally seen during charismatic revivals, small prayer group settings, or church worship services. Some consider holy laughter to be a sign of the filling and/or baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Others explain holy laughter as psychologically induced “mass hysteria.” This occasionally occurs in highly emotional environments when someone begins an activity and those around are mentally and emotionally stimulated to join in the behavior.
In sum, since the practice is never mentioned in the Bible—and certainly not in conjunction with any spiritual gift—many agree that all manifestations are psychologically driven. On the other hand, those who experience Holy Laughter explain the behavior as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Should You Pursue Holy Laughter?
Finally, should you be pursuing holy laughter in your spiritual life?
No, probably not. Practices like it are extraneous to the Christian life.
As best as I can tell, if holy laughter is Holy Spirit inspired, there is nothing you can do to cause it to happen or bring it on by trying. If the Holy Spirit ever inspires holy laughter in you, then enjoy it. Otherwise, don’t do it and don’t worry about it.
I hope this helps!
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/digitalskillet
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].