“I recently attended a religious meeting,” a correspondent says, “at which people were moved to what they called `holy laughter’ or a ‘manifestation of God’s joy.’ One man sounded like a fire engine siren and another like a rooster crowing. Is there biblical basis for believing this is from the Holy Spirit?”
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There is a time to weep and a time to laugh (Eccl. 3:4). The Bible associates God’s blessings with laughter — an altogether natural and proper expression of gladness and joy (Job 8:21; Psa. 126:1-3). When Isaiah foretells the messianic community, he regularly mentions rejoicing (Isa. 12:3, 6; 25:9; 51:3, 11; 61:8, 10). “Rejoicing” is a major theme for Luke also, who traces Isaiah’s topics and even his order, when recording the origins of Christianity and the Gospel’s spread through the Gentile world (Lk. 1:44; 10:17; 24:52-53; Acts 8:8, 39; 13:52). Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, says Paul, and it is a mark of God’s present reign (Gal. 5:22; Rom. 14:17).
In certain charismatic circles today, the phenomenon you describe occurs with the so-called “Toronto blessing” — which has spread far beyond the Canadian city where it first became famous in a Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Perceived imbalances and abuses eventually caused Vineyard founder John Wimber to dissociate the larger fellowship from the Toronto experience, but thousands of pilgrims have traveled to Ontario seeking a spiritual blessing and many say their expectations were fulfilled.
I have not attended any meeting marked by “holy laughter,” but there was a period of time in my life, after I was profoundly and supernaturally impressed with the gospel of Christ’s grace, when I would find myself suddenly overcome by waves of uncontrollable joy so much that I would laugh aloud — sometimes to the consternation of a fellow worker who did not understand either the cause or the manifestation. When he asked why I laughed, I would explain that it was from joy in the Holy Spirit.
Any visitation of God will deeply — and often physically — move the recipient, and I am not much concerned what other people might think of that. The cynics thought the 120 disciples were drunk on Pentecost when they really had received the Holy Spirit. The great danger with any personal spiritual experience is that people forever want to label it and mass produce it for general distribution. Soon someone is “specializing” in the phenomenon, whatever it might be, and what was spontaneous and genuine at first easily becomes sought after by copycat enthusiasts eager for the experience. When the Spirit doesn’t duplicate what they come seeking, their shallow but self-fulfilling zeal often supplies the difference. As for those men whose sounds you thought so strange, that is probably just the way they laughed — and people likely have chuckled at them all their lives for that.