Jul 29, 2012
Does God have a sense of humor? Speaking personally, I get grouchy whenever I hear the lame responses like, “Just look in the mirror!” or “Check out the platypus!” These lines are facile and obvious – but they are also spiritually offensive. God created you; He created the mirror; and He even created the platypus, according to His will. Humor is a matter more serious than glib wisecracks.
Whether God has a sense of humor is to some people an open question, but ultimately a silly question. Existentially, God has a sense of humor since senses of humor exist in the world. How it is manifested is a bit problematic – something to add to your long list of “questions to ask the Lord on your first day in heaven.”
In fact there are few biblical instances of God laughing. When He does, it’s usually in derision: laughing contemptuously at the wicked or the condemned. Returning to the existential, it is not intellectual presumption to assume that if Jesus wept (see the shortest verse in Scripture) He surely must have laughed too.
Biblical examples of laughter are few and far between, although we don’t need a description of God actually being mirthful (the Chortling Bush? ) to know that humor has a place in His plan. Consider:
Jesus saying, “Let the dead bury the dead” – a sarcastic challenge to one’s perception.
Similarly, Jesus’s almost visual depiction of the contrast between a speck in one person’s eye and a log in another’s – exaggeration to make His point.
Jesus, again: In the middle of a scathing tirade, He resorted to a ridiculous allusion to paint a contrast, when He compared people’s hypocrisy to someone who strains a gnat out of a cup, but is willing to swallow a camel.
The Savior’s nicknames for His disciples – Peter the Rock, a pun; “Sons of Thunder” – reveal a playful use of humor.
The writer J C Lamont has speculated on the humor in the biblical account of God appearing in some human form and wrestling with Jacob… and resorting to sneakiness to win! He bested Jacob in the area of his putative strength, which is not only a just result, but a humorous ending to that significant chapter in Jacob’s life.
Cartoonist and educator Mark Dittmar sees a graphic use of “black humor” in Paul’s criticism of Judaizers in Galatians – in effect, “Why stop at circumcision? Let them castrate themselves!”
Mark’s wife Lynn can’t resist seeing humor in God speaking through Balaam’s ass – choosing a most ridiculous vessel when something less startling would have sufficed.
We cannot ignore examples of laughter in the Bible – Abraham’s barren wife laughing when she received the news that she would conceive… and her son’s very name, Isaac, meaning “laughter” in Hebrew.
As I recalled nicknames of the Disciples, my mind raced to some prominent names in the church. Is there humor here? –
The first Chief Rabbi of the modern State of Israel, a dignified Torah scholar, nevertheless was named Rabbi Kook;
The most respected Archbishop of Manila, who, after his elevation by Pope Paul VI, and (as is customary) using his last name in his new title, was Cardinal Sin;
Is there any humor in the fact that one of the most corrupt and licentious of popes – fathering two illegitimate children – was Pope Innocent VIII?
In American Evangelicalism, one the cheeriest uplifters and bearers of glad tidings in his crusades was nevertheless named Moody;
At a time when the public was skeptical of televangelists congenitally having boasted and swaggered, there was Jimmy Swaggart;
At a time when the public is skeptical of television ministries’ obsession with money, a prominent TV preacher is named Creflo Dollar;
At a time when the public is skeptical of ministries’ ethical standards – whether donors are being swindled – there is the popular (but very ethical) Chuck Swindoll;
At a time when the public is skeptical of television preachers making questionable claims and popping off on every subject, there was Pastor Peter Popoff.
As it is written, you can’t make this stuff up.
Many are the attributes of God and the names of the Christ in the Bible, and on posters sold in Christian bookstores: Alpha and Omega; The Arm of the Lord; The Author and Finisher of Our Faith; The Faithful Witness; The Good Shepherd; The King of Kings; The Lamb of God; Lord of Lords; Messiah; Prince of Peace; Bright and Morning Star; Balm of Gilead; Our Passover; Rock; Rose of Sharon; Wonderful Counselor; Son of God; Savior. And so on. But one of the most essential often is overlooked – “essential” because it reflects the Essence of Christ.
We have become conditioned by generations of paintings and movies and Sunday-school lesson-sheets that portray Jesus as everything from grim to moon-faced mystical to well-coiffed and white-bread. But if Jesus could weep, He surely smiled. And if He loved His friends, and strangers, enough to figuratively climb up on the cross to suffer and die… certainly He cared enough to be a friend, in the best senses we can think of.
We should know the Jesus who smiled, who laughed, who connected with people by a soft word and perhaps a joke, who put His arm around someone in good humor. He was more than familiar with the first verse of Proverbs, chapter 15: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” He was a Man of Sorrows, the Bible tells us, and therefore humor must have been a special language to those who identified with Him in sorrow.
Just as using “Abba” (in effect, “Daddy”) as another name for God that allows a greater intimacy, let us all see Jesus more often as Lord and Savior… and Pal. He IS a friend like no other.
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If Jesus is our Holy Friend, then the comforting old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” can occasionally be a little more informal, a little more accessible to us! Here is a Dixieland-Rock-Funk (OK, you come up with a better category) version by the great Bart Millard, moonlighting from MercyMe.