A Theology of Humor

     “What Augustine once said about time could well be said about humor: that we know very well what it is until someone asks us to explain it. Humor seems to mock all attempts at definition. In spite of the elusiveness of definition, it appears that, by general agreement, humor is more than the bare ability to make or perceive jokes. True, it often works through smiling and laughter; and laughter may be produced by and express joy, merriment, and amusement. But, it may also be produced by mockery, derision, and scorn. Scripture provides examples of both types of humor. Thus, humor generally refers to the capacity for amusement, with all of the varied forms that it may take. This definition is broad enough to include both “positive” and “negative” forms.
     Why has little attention been given to the theological significance of humor? Here are a few myths to dispel:
          1. Humor Cannot Be Analyzed
          2. Humor is Too Complex a Subject
          3. Humor is Too Diverse
          4. Humor is Incompatible With Religion
          5. We Are Too Familiar With Bible Text Without Humor
          6. Influence of Asceticism
          7. Influence of Puritanism
          8. Humor is Too Frivolous a Subject
     Here are the beneficial theological ramifications of humor:
          1. Deepens Our Knowledge of God
          2. Humor is a Part of Religious Life
          3. Humor is an Antidote for Pride
          4. Humor is a Coping Mechanism
          5. Jesus Appreciated Humor
          6. God Has a Sense of Humor
          7. Humor is Healing”
     – Cheryl Taylor, A Theology of Humor (read article for explanation of each point)

     “When at its best, humor builds fellowship. It restores perspective, keeps us humble, helps us think more clearly, and allows us to share goodwill. It bases fellowship on our weakness and foolishness, at the same time inviting us to leave behind the foolishness but keep the fellowship. If human foolishness is being pointed out, the one doing the pointing includes himself in the group that the joke is on. There’s a willingness to share foolishness and disgrace for each others’ sake and in each others’ company.
     At its worst, humor is an attack. Mockery and scorn are the voice of bitterness and rage. These are forbidden to Christians, though in practice we do not seem to have noticed. At times like that, “humor” expresses a hatred in our hearts for our brother and both invites and incites further hatred. The Bible has a lot to say about derision and scorn, and about mockers. None of it is good.”

     “Humor is everywhere, it’s vital to relationships and it’s ancient, but as a student of humor I just want to take a look at what the Biblical view of humor is. Many Christians (myself included) make an unintentional assessment regarding what kind of humor is acceptable for Christians: the kind that makes me laugh. This isn’t a good litmus test and as common as it is in our culture, I think it’s time we move toward a theology of humor.”
     – William Adams, Toward a Theology of Humor

     “In a collection of essays called “Holy Laughter”, Conrad Hyers says, “A common trait of dictators, revolutionaries, and ecclesiastical authoritarians alike is the refusal to laugh at themselves or permit others to laugh at them.”
     Of course, “them” can easily mean “us.” At times we all take ourselves too seriously, forgetting to laugh at the mirror and refusing to let others see us as we are, as little children toddling toward the Kingdom. If we do not laugh at ourselves, and allow others to laugh at and with us, we tend to worship ourselves. Making fun of ourselves is like making a good confession. Letting others make fun of us is like accepting prophecy.
     In The Joyful Christ, Cal Samra says, “Humor is a balancing, disarming, and therefore peacemaking force that touches on the divine.” Peaceful men and women have a divine sense of humor, a healing force. They have an accepting way of rejecting things. The peaceful ones can fight without hating, and therefore seldom fight. As Cal Samra says, “It is possible to wage peace with humor.”
     The best humor occurs when the supernatural Gospel is acted out in real life: a three-star general turns the other cheek; a president of a major corporation works for minimum wage; a Paris fashion designer gives up the runway to make robes for nuns. Whenever someone lives out the Gospel, it is a hilarious contra-diction to what the world takes seriously. The world laughs at those who wish to be perfect. The world laughs at people like Xenia of St. Petersburg who sold everything she had and gave the money to the poor. The world laughs and calls Xenia a fool. The Church smiles and calls her a Fool for Christ, and a Saint.
     In Medieval England, there was typically one person who could challenge the ruling king and live. That was the court jester, foolish enough to spout the truth instead of flattery. And in sixteenth-century Russia, Ivan the Terrible would take no criticism from anyone except Basil the Fool. Perhaps today we all need to employ a jester, if not a Holy Fool, in our own little kingdoms.”
     – The Theological Necessity for Humor, David Athey

Relevant Scripture/Quotes
     Blessed is the man who sits not in the seats of scoffers. Psalm 1:1

     When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:1-2

     How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Proverbs 1:22

     The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. Proverbs 10:31-32

     Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools. Proverbs 19:29

     Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who decieves his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” Proverbs 26:18-19

     Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath. Proverbs 29:8

     “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:21

     Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

    Speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15

     Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

     Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

     Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

     “I’ve heard it said many times: “The Bible never says Jesus laughed.” My response is always the same: “Yes, because Jesus was telling all the jokes.””
     – Joel Kilpatrick, God, That’s Funny

     “I’m always surprised how people use the word “pleasure” and “joy” to mean one thing in their personal lives, but change its meaning when applying it to God. We picture his joy and gladness as a calm feeling of mature fulfillment, tranquility, high-minded appreciation. We believe that “In your presence is fullness of joy,” (Psalm 16:11, NKJV) but how often do we picture the kind of joy we have with friends on an unforgettable weekend? Or the joy that must have broken out at these festivals and feasts? Why is it so hard for us to imagine God enjoying entertainment and humor with us?”
     – Joel Kilpatrick, God, That’s Funny
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