On Humor as a Coping Mechanism

     “Humor helps one keep perspective. Humor can help people to cope with and properly understand their human existence. Human existence provides humorous reminders that they are not God. It also permits people to accept and celebrate their paradoxical existence. Any alleged Christianity which fails to express itself in joy, at some point, is clearly spurious. The Christian is joyful, not because he is blind to injustice and suffering, but because he is convinced that these, in the light of divine sovereignty, are never ultimate. He is convinced that the unshakable purpose is the divine rule in all things, whether of heaven or earth. The humor of the Christian is not a way of denying tears, but rather a way of affirming something which is deeper than tears. “The man who reacts with humor to the event that crushes him reveals the measureless measure of man. The man who smiles in face of his death already lives his immortality. Humor is a quiver of transcendence within the weight of mankind.”
     Humor is the ability to laugh at oneself and thereby accept oneself with all of one’s vulnerabilities and faults. Humor is one of the finest solvents for irritations in life, because it helps to get rid of conflicts that really do not matter; it disposes of irrelevancies by laughing at them. It enables one to get a fresh perspective on tough problems, a perspective which helps shift the situation into manageable proportions. Laughter has the power to lift the spirit, for it can transform even tears into lenses through which to see life more clearly and can brighten black horizons with the light of hope.”
     – Cheryl Taylor, A Theology of Humor

     “Comedy is acting out optimism.”
     – Robin Williams

     “The next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.”
     – Frank A. Clark

     “Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world. So if it is correct to say that humor was stamped out in Nazi Germany, that does not mean that people were not in good spirits, or anything of that sort, but something much deeper and more important.”
     – Ludwig Wittgenstein
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On Humor as an Antidote for Pride

     “A common trait of dictators, revolutionaries, and ecclesiastical authoritarians alike is the refusal to laugh at themselves or permit others to laugh at them.”
     – Conrad Hyers, Holy Laughter

     “Humor is a proof of the capacity of the self to gain a vantage point form which it is able to look at itself. The sense of humor is thus a by-product of self-transcendence…This means that the ability to laugh at oneself is the prelude to the sense of contrition.”
     – Reinhold Niebuhr

    “Humor plays a large role in keeping those in power humble, self-aware, fallible, and accountable. The court fool could be an object of derision (downward humor). But the fool could also, via his lowly status, get away with commentaries about the king that no one else could make (upward humor).
     In short, a part of prophecy is about “speaking truth to power,” and because humor is intricately linked with power, it is often a great mechanism for this. By ridiculing or joking about those in power, we “bring them down a notch.” And many times this is very important to do. Apparently, the Crow nation thinks this is so important they have embedded a mechanism for “upward humor” into the very fabric of their society. Other cultures do a similar thing only more informally. The late night talk shows come to mind.”
     – Richard Beck, The Theology of Humor (Part 2)

    “Never make fun of someone unless he’s bigger or stronger than you—and then as you please.”
     – C.S. Lewis, from the mouth of King Lune of Archenland in The Horse and His Boy

     “A comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance of himself.”
     – Henri Bergson

On Humor as a Means of Sharing Truth

     “Satirist: I just love it when Christians speak in ‘Christianese’ and fail to communicate anything of meaning.
     LiteralistNo you don’t, you’re lying and all liars go to hell, Revelation 21:8!
     The point of the satirical remark was not to lie, as taken at face value by the literalist, but to point to a reality beyond the remark in a manner that cannot be achieved in a mere propositional format. Though the end does not always justify the means, it should be clear given the tone, delivery, and unexpected statement that this person does not actually mean what they are saying, but are intending to communicate the opposite by saying it in a clever or humorous way that seasons the conversation with grace and salt (Colossians 4:6).

     “I once heard a speaker say: “Everybody wants to go to Heaven…but nobody wants to die.” Ha! Embedded in that humorous comment are two seeds: truth and fear. Humor, properly employed, can have a way of telling the truth in micro-increments that we accept, even if we don’t want to hear them. Fear’s shadow tends to dissipate in humor’s light. Humor makes things more palatable. Improperly employed, humor can indiscriminately bruise or cut and therefore feed the fear that resides in all of us, can’t it?”
     – Dennis Mansfield, A Biblical Theology of Humor

    “All good theological humor points us to a deeper assertion of theological truth…Wield the double-edged sword of wit and wisdom in keeping with a long line of satirical saints who learned to join God in laughing out loud at the folly of man while tempering their delight with the light of truth.”
     – Michael Svigel, The Rise of Theological Humor

     “Satire is humor with a purpose and a tremendous vehicle for truth.”
     – Jon Acuff, Three Rules of Christian Satire

     “Satire is parody with a point.”
     – Steven Colbert, Satire is Parody With a Point

“Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.”
– Victor Borge

     “Humor is the affectionate communication of insight.”
     – Leo Rosten

     “Humor is perhaps a sense of intellectual perspective: an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.”
     – Christopher Morley

     “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”
     – Peter Ustinov

     “Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.”
     – Mark Twain

Biblical Examples of Humor; The Difference Between Irony, Sarcasm, Satire, and Hyperbole

Irony, Sarcasm, Satire, and Hyperbole
     Though “irony,” “sarcasm,” “satire,” and “hyperbole” are all ways of saying one thing and meaning another, they go about it in different ways.
     Irony is the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand, or two or more incongruous objects, actions, persons juxtaposed. Irony is often confused with sarcasm and satire.
     – Someone saying, “It’s such lovely weather outside!” when it’s actually raining heavily.
     Sarcasm is the use of irony with the added intention to mock, ridicule or express contempt. Sarcasm is praise which is really an insult; sarcasm generally involves malice, the desire to put someone down.
     – Someone saying, “Your intelligence astounds me!” when they actually mean the exact opposite, i.e. that the person is stupid.
     – “This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college.”
     Satire is the use of irony with the added intention to expose vices or follies of an individual, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. “Satire is parody with a point.” Steven Colbert
     – “Overpopulation could easily be solved by serving poor children as veal.”
     Hyperbole is exaggerated statements of claims not intended to be taken literally.
     – “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”

Biblical Examples of Humor [not all examples justify our use of said rhetoric device, especially sarcasm]
     Sarcasm:
     – Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Numbers 16:13
     – Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Exodus 14:11
     – Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? 1 Samuel 21:15-16
     – “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Judges 10:14
     – And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 1 Kings 18:27
     – Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8
     – “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4. The whole of God’s response to Job in Job 38-41 is a sarcastic mockery of Job’s complaints and demands.
     – Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you. Jeremiah 46:11
     Satire:
     – And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” Numbers 11:23
     – Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. Satire in proverbial literature. These proverbs deal with the futility of trying to find satisfaction in money.
     – Jonah is satire in narrative form. While most of the satire in the Bible is serious, the Book of Jonah is a masterpiece of humor in the Bible—the story of a pouting prophet whose career is a veritable handbook on how not to be a prophet. Jonah embodies the nationalistic, ethnocentric zeal that views God as the exclusive property of the Jews.
     – Amos is an example of satire in prophetic literature. As a plainspoken satirist, the prophet Amos spews out a kaleidoscopic collection of literary forms and objects of attack. What unifies the book is its satire: From start to finish, Amos either attacks vice or appeals to a standard of virtue from which the wealthy and privileged classes of his society have departed.
     – Luke 10:25-37. The parable of the Good Samaritan embodies satire in parable form. The object of attack is self-centeredness, indifference, and lack of compassion toward people in need. The Good Samaritan’s acts of mercy embody the satiric norm of love and compassion.
     – Zechariah 5. It’s a fantastic vision of a flying scroll, a woman named Wickedness, and two flying women with stork-like wings. The objects of attack are people who steal and lie.
     – Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 1 Corinthians 4:8
     Hyperbole:
     – “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
     – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25
     – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26
     Irony:
     – Jacob
     – Job

     “There are many different types of humor. These include: puns, wordplays, riddles, jokes, satires, lampoons, sarcasm, irony, wit, black humor, comedy, slapstick, farce, burlesques, caricatures, parody, and travesty. The differences among these different humor types is not always great. In particular, burlesque, caricature, parody, and travesty are very much alike and refer to literary or dramatic works that mimic serious works in order to achieve a humorous or satiric effect. Likewise, the difference between satire and lampoon is not that great. The bottom line is that humor has the ability to make people laugh, smile, or chuckle, at least inwardly. Perhaps it does the same for God. For a greater list of detailed examples of humor in the Bible, skim the following…”
     – Hershey H. Friedman, Humor in the Hebrew Bible
     – Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ
     – Michael Svigel, Coffee As a Means of Grace
     – Michael Svigel, Toward an Evangelical Theology of Cussing
     – Michael Svigel, The Gospel of Keith
     – Michael Svigel, The Gospel of Keith (2nd ed.)
     – Richard Beck, The Theology of Peanuts
     – Richard Beck, The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes

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