THE GOD OF HUMOR
From the "Bible Advocate" - Jan/Feb. 2014
A publication of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA.
For many, the Bible is a sobering book — no laughing matter. Not often do people think of humor in the same sentence with Scripture. Generally, God's people know that the grace and truth of our Lord is to be taken seriously.
In some ways, God's Word doesn't recommend laughter very highly. Though there is a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4), the former receives higher praise from Bible writers than the latter (7:3). This may be because tears speak the language of sorrow and repentance that God requires and are more therapeutic to the proud heart than many hee-haws (2 Corinthians 7:10; James 4:9, 10).
Laughter can be the language of fools: sardonic, cynical, and mocking (Ecclesiastes 7:6). More than ten times the King James Bible reports those who "laugh others to scorn." Abraham and Sarah laughed when the Lord announced they would bear a son in their old age — a response that Sarah denied and for which she was gently rebuked.
In a few places, laughter becomes a testimony against those who ridicule and scorn God's goodness now, for He will someday "laugh" at their destruction (Proverbs 1:24-27; Psalm 2:4; 37:13; 59:8). In Luke's list of Beatitudes (6:21b, 25b) Jesus assures those who endure godly sorrow today that they'll end up laughing, and today's laughers that they shall someday weep. A Hebrew version of this reversal is seen in Psalm 126:5,6.
Laughs are not all bad, however — not at all! Endorsements for merriment are found in Prov-erbsl 5:13,15 and the familiar words of 17:22: "A merry heart does good, like medicine...." Though there is a time to laugh, Proverbs 14:13 reminds us that even a laugh can be a cover-up. Thus is the mixed witness of Scripture to the laughter we love but too easily misuse.
The rest of the story is that the Bible commends humor at a deeper level than mere laughter. The blessings of joy and merrymaking may be found in many texts. See, for example, Isaiah 61:1-3's prophecy of the Messiah, abbreviated here:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to ..."heal the brokenhearted (v. 1); comfort all who mourn (v. 2); console those who mourn in Zion, to give them ... the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified (v. 3). Here, sorrow is seen negatively, and its cure is recommended highly. This passage conveys the truth that sorrow in our wounded world is too often the mourning of heavy spirits and broken hearts, traceable to human sin. It is the common lot of all of us at sometime in our lives. And this is the affliction that Jesus came to cure (Luke 4:17-19).
The good news is that; through Christ, our saddest burdens may be exchanged for better things: comfort, oil of joy, and a garment of praise. Rewritten in new covenant terms, the passage speaks about heaven's love, acceptance, and forgiveness here. Each phrase of the quote from Isaiah suggests that laughter will be a fitting, holy response to the promised work of the Lord's Spirit in the gospel.
Elsewhere the same prophet lauds the day of the Lord Jesus in poetic language: Hills and mountains sing; trees of the field clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12). "The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (35:10).
Go ahead, all who are in Christ by faith: Celebrate and rejoice! For the Word and work of the Lord are to heal our hearts and wipe tears from our eyes. No more death, sorrow, or crying shall be, for the former things have passed away.
Final fulfillment of this is still future, for sure, but the promise is realized by faith today as we trust and obey the Lord. So laugh, you children of God, laugh long and loud! The enemy of our souls is defeated in Jesus.
Ten Humorous Texts
Genesis 31:30: Laban (apparently sincerely) asks, "Why did you steal my gods?" (NlV).
Numbers 22:28: The prophet wouldn't speak God's words, so God uses a donkey.
Judges 16:10: Delilah says, "You have made a fool of me" (NlV). Read: The pot calling the kettle black.
1 Samuel 3:1 -9: God plays hide and seek with Samuel.
1 Kings 18:27: Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal.
Proverbs 11:22; 27:15: Two of several proverbs with a glint of humor.
Jonah 1:3: Running from an all-seeing God is no smart strategy.
Matthew 23:24: Jesus speaks of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
Mark 3:17: Jesus refers, tongue-in-cheek, to James and John as "sons of thunder," or "sons of trouble."
John 21:7: Peter is so excited, he puts on his coat to go swimming.
- Bob Hostetler
Everyone loves a laugh — even more than medicine. And smiles are superb: They increase our face value.
Nobody knows this more than Liz Curtis Higgs. A speaker with Women- of-Faith, she spreads joy and laughter to audiences nationally and internationally. In this BA interview, we'll learn more about humor from this woman who generates it with excellence and experience.
BA: Humor comes naturally to you, despite your troubled past. Do you see humor as God's gift?
LCH: Yes, I do believe humor is one of God's kindest gifts. Non-offensive, uplifting humor is a natural and healthy way of coping with stress, defusing tension, and helping people relax. When we can stand back from a difficult situation and see the humor in it, we are on our way to finding a solution.
Any physician, therapist, or minister will tell you that when patients or parishioners can muster a smile, it's a good indicator of healing. They are coming around — physically, emotionally, and spiritually on the mend.
When Sarah finally gives birth to a son at age ninety, she says, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6). This is a bit of word-play around Isaac's name. Yitschaq means "he laughs." But Sarah's statement also lets us see that she has regained her sense of humor. Sarah is laughing again, and it's contagious.
I fully believe God intends for us to be a laughing people. Never in a crude or derogatory way at the expense of others, and certainly not laughing nonstop, but simply seeing the humor and irony in everyday life and allowing that amusement to restore our sense of balance.
BA: Speak to believers who feel humor and Christianity don't mix: "After all, wasn't Jesus a man of sorrows?"
LCH: Jesus also had a wonderful sense of humor, or children would not have been so drawn to Him. All parents, even serious ones, are pleased when an infant begins to respond to them by smiling. As they grow, children laugh naturally and unashamedly. Only when adults wag their fingers and say, "Straighten up!" or "That's not funny!" do children cover their mouths when they laugh or stop laughing altogether.
Believers who don't embrace much humor likely grew up in an environment where it was discouraged, not affirmed. My heart aches for them. They truly miss one of God's wonderful gifts: the ability to laugh at ourselves and at life, to put problems in perspective, to see that God is in charge and we are not.
Those of us who love to laugh and help others laugh learned long ago that you can't make anyone laugh. You can only offer them an open door.
BA: Comedians Mark Lowry and Tim Hawkins elicit varying responses from believers. Is there a temptation to push the envelope of Christian decorum to get laughs?
LCH: Humor is always risky. Always. The key is to wave at the envelope but resist the urge to push it. We have to know the audience's boundaries and try not to cross them. When we do (audiences will let you know), we need to step back immediately, offer a lighthearted but sincere apology, and move on.
Some jokes and stories that were acceptable fifty years ago are not funny now because they are sexist, racist, ageist, insensitive, politically incorrect — you get the idea. Comedians need to be extra careful not to step on anyone's toes now, and that's a good thing. For me, I just step on my own toes, give the audience permission to laugh with me, and perhaps see themselves in the funny situations I'm describing.
Here's the truth: There will always be people who don't enjoy humor. Pray for them. No, I'm not kidding. Humor is one of the safest, cheapest, most satisfying coping mechanisms when hardship crosses our path. Naturally we pray first for the Lord's direction and strength, and we turn to our family of faith for help. But a little laughter along the way can help lighten our burdens considerably.
BA: A Christianity Today article says that some Christian thinkers have developed "an aversion for speakers-writers who use emotion [humor] to elicit temporary responses that bypass our mental maps and leave us in worse shape than when they started." Your thoughts?
LCH: Those are actually John Ortberg's words, conveying Dallas Willard's opinion, but still no doubt accurate. Ortberg also wrote that Willard once said, "Speakers should never tell stories." So it wasn't just humor that didn't sit well with him. It was storytelling, period, and the human emotions that stories often produce: laughter, tears, sympathy, compassion, and so on.
Willard was a brilliant man and more than entitled to his opinion. Still, God designed us to be intellectual and emotional. Whenever one aspect of our human nature is enhanced and the other diminished, we aren't functioning to our fullest capacity. The best stories — and the best humor — should make us feel and think. The intellect is not left behind when emotions come into play. If anything, the mind is engaged to a higher degree.
My brother David, a retired college instructor, is brilliant— I mean over-the-moon smart, huge IQ, all that. He also has the best sense of humor of anyone I know. Clearly his brain and funny bone are both in good working order.
BA: Why do you think God gave us a book that typically provokes sober reflection and rarely offers what readers would describe as "funny"?
LCH: Ah, but what the Bible does offer us, over and over again, is joy. No, joy is not the same as humor; it's not even the same as happiness. Joy goes far deeper than either. Still, when I am joyful, there's a good chance I might smile. Might even chuckle. Could end up laughing. When the Holy Spirit fills us to the brim, joy often spills out.
The Bible covers the full gamut of human emotions and experiences. In a single psalm David can move from gnashing of teeth to an outburst of praise. Psalm 5 begins with a "cry for help" and ends with the hope that "those who love your name may rejoice in you."
Is the Bible funny? Not in the usual sense. But joy-filled? Oh, baby!
BA: Most passages cited as samples of Bible humor would
likely be seen by many modern humorists as contrived attempts to find humor where it isn't. Comments?
LCH: Well, I am a modern humorist, so I'll tell you what I see. When I read the Bible, I laugh a lot, either because a biblical character is behaving true to human nature (that is to say, foolishly) or because the Lord is revealing the truth of His sovereignty in yet another breathtakingly creative way. The Bible is anything but dull or sober. It is the living Word of God. It breathes, it moves, it touches our emotions, our intellect, and every other aspect of who we are. God changes us at the cellular level, and He uses His Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do that.
And yes, sometimes God uses humor. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and asks his brother, Aaron, what has happened that the people are worshiping a false idol, Aaron explains, "They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" (Exodus 32:24).
Seriously? I always crack up when I read that passage. True, Moses was not the least bit amused. But Aaron's exaggeration is laughable. When we see how foolish our actions must look to God, that's the first step toward contrition, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and a fresh start.
BA: Jesus wept (John 11:35), but we never read that He smiled or laughed. What's the best example of our Lord's humor, for you?
LCH: I've always longed for a simple, two-word verse: "Jesus laughed." Not in Scripture. But even His weeping indicates that He experienced the fullness of human emotions.
To be sure, humor in the Bible is more subtle and often dependent on a deep knowledge of the idioms and customs of a given time and place to really get the joke. Clever wordplays, of which there are many in Scripture, escape those of us who don't know ancient Hebrew or Greek.
But there are definitely scenes that contain splashes of humor, like this one in Acts 20. Preaching his last sermon before he leaves town, Paul "kept on talking until midnight" (v.7). Any humorist knows this is a perfect set-up for what happens next.
"Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on" (v.9). This is visual humor at its best. We see Eutychus fighting the pull of sleep. First his head droops, then he snaps it back up with a little snort. We're smiling at this point, because we've all nodded off during a sermon. We get it.
Oh, but look. This young man is seated in a window. You don't suppose. . . . No, he couldn't. . . .
"When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground . . ." (v.9). Yup, right out the window. And from the third story, too. This is pure slapstick. There he goes, arms flailing, sandals flying.
Except things get very serious indeed when he hits the ground. Our inclination to laugh stops the instant he's "picked up dead" (v.9), as we're transported from the height (literally) of humor to the depth of sorrow.
But not for long. Paul threw his arms around Eutychus, then told everyone, "Don't be alarmed. . . . He's alive!" (v.10). Moments later they're back upstairs, breaking bread, and Paul goes on talking until daylight.
A glorious story, perfectly told to engage all our emotions — including our sense of humor — and ending on the happiest note possible.
Many verses I love, but this one is a special favorite: "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, ESV).
Be sure to read Liz's books, among them Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them and The Girl's Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God Who Rocked Her World. See more on Liz at baonline.org. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, except where noted.
TO BE SURE GOD HAS ALL THE EMOTIONS WE HAVE, HE MADE US IN HIS IMAGE, SO WE HAVE [SHOULD HAVE] ALL HIS EMOTIONS. GOD IS A GOD OF JOY, HAPPINESS, LIGHT-HEARTEDNESS, AND YES INDEED HUMOR - LAUGHING.
BEING LIGHT-HEARTED AND HAPPY, JOYFUL, SMILING A LOT, LAUGHING, IS ONE OF THE BEST MEDICINES YOU CAN HAVE FOR HEALTH. MODERN SCIENCE HAS NOW DISCOVERED THAT BEING HATEFUL, ANGRY, DOWN-IN-THE-MOUTH [FOR NO REASON] , PRODUCES BAD CHEMICALS IN YOUR BODY. BEING HAPPY, JOYFUL, SMILING, LAUGHING, PRODUCES GOOD CHEMICALS IN YOUR BODY.
YES THERE IS A TIME TO BE RIGHTEOUSLY ANGRY, TO BE SORROWFUL, TO CRY, BUT OVERALL THAT SHOULD NOT BE OUR DAILY WAY OF LIVING.
LAUGHTER IS WONDERFUL FOR THE SOUL AND BODY.
SADLY TODAY I FIND TOO MANY COMEDIANS WITH A "SICK" HUMOR. I JUST ABOUT NEVER GO TO THE SO-CALLED "COMEDY" MOVIES TODAY....THEY ALSO ARE USUALLY A SICK TYPE OF HUMOR, AND/OR AN OFF-BEAT DIRTY SEXUAL SO-CALLED COMEDY. NOW AND AGAIN YOU FIND A GOOD COMEDY MOVIE MADE TODAY.
BUT WE HAVE THE BLESSING OF THE OLD COMEDY MOVIES, THE ONES I GREW UP WITH: ABBOT AND COSTELO; THE MARX BROTHERS; THE BOWERY BOYS; BOB HOPE; RED SKELTON; I LOVE LUCY; AND OTHERS THAT WERE GOOD CLEAN AND/OR SLAP-STICK COMEDY.
IT SHOULD BE PART OF OUR LIVES THAT WE SMILE EASILY, BE MENTALLY JOYFUL AND HAPPY, AND YES BE ABLE TO LAUGH A LOT, WITH THE CORRECT WHOLESOME, GOOD CLEAN LAUGHTER.
GOD CREATED LAUGHTER. ONLY HUMAN BEINGS CAN FIND SOMETHING FUNNY AND LAUGH AT IT...... WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT LAUGHTER BLOWS AWAY THE IDEA OF EVOLUTION; YEP INDEED WE CAN LAUGH AT IT.