According to a Yiddish proverb, “Man plans, and God laughs”–or, in Woody Allen’s famous paraphrase, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” It was this thought that first came to my mind as I pondered today’s word, laughter.
My next thought was of Antonio Salieri in the movie Amadeus. The historical Salieri, an eminent Italian composer and teacher, became the court composer of Emperor Rudolph II and dominated the Italian-language opera in Vienna for the last quarter of the 18th century. This bitter rival of Mozart, at least in the highly fictionalized portrayal in Peter Shaffer’s 1979 stage play and Miloš Forman’s 1984 film, has vowed devotion to God in exchange for his skills as a musician. When confronted with the transcendent music of the immature, obscene, and immoral Mozart, Salieri believes God has betrayed his promise and becomes devoted instead to destroying Mozart. In my mind, at least, the sound of Mozart’s maniacal laughter, which dominates the movie, recalls the irony deeply embedded in the proverb quoted above.
Yes, I confess that my mind often turns to the cinema–oftener still to literature–to illustrate points of a philosophical nature. But in my research for this post, I found that scripture offers a firmer understanding of the dichotomy between our plans and God’s–and the wisdom and comfort inherent surrendering ourselves to the latter:
To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
All a person’s ways seem pure to him,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.
The Lord works out everything to its proper end.
(Proverbs 16:1-4a, NIV)
Or, in the words of Eugene H. Peterson’s Bible paraphrase, The Message:
Mortals make elaborate plans,
but God has the last word.
Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good;
God probes for what is good.
Put God in charge of your work,
then what you’ve planned will take place.
God made everything with a place and purpose.
May we use these last few days of Advent to prepare our ears to hear God’s plans for us, our minds to comprehend the nature of those plans, and our hearts to follow them. And may we have the further wisdom to realize that God’s will is going to be fulfilled no matter how hard we strive against it.
So be it. Or, as we more usually say, Amen.