The Humor of God

INTRODUCTION

We often say it whenever we try to imagine the way that God reacts toward our human foibles: “God must be laughing at us right now!” Or we say it whenever some bizarre coincidence occurs or a wry situation takes place: “That’s a good one, God, you’re pretty funny!” But are these expressions accurate? Is it safe to say that God has a sense of humor or that he does anything that can be considered humorous? History does not have very much to offer in regards to the discussion of humor as an attribute of God. The humor of God has been largely ignored by the majority of Christian scholarship and has failed to receive as thorough a treatment as God’s other, more scripturally prevalent attributes. Granted, many scholars and theologians point out instances, situations, and stories in the Bible that they believe to be funny or humorous, but not many have developed those points so far as to attribute the hilarity of those items as finding their source in the nature of God. However, it is this author’s conviction that there exists enough evidence in Scripture to claim humor as an attribute of God.

Humor can be credited to God in a way that does not diminish the weight of His holiness, nor take away from the solemnity that should accompany our reverence of Him. In fact, viewing God as humorous, if done correctly and biblically, through the lens of Scripture, actually serves to heighten our adoration of Him.

A Crucial Qualification

Generally, the first indication that we find that God may have a sense of humor is the simple fact that mankind, being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), has a sense of humor. A “sense of humor” is defined as “the ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is comical or funny.”[1] Certainly since man can “perceive, enjoy, and express what is comical or funny,” and we are “made in the image of God,” then God also can “perceive, enjoy, and express what is comical or funny.”

However, it must be said that whenever we speak of the humor of God we are not referring to anything crude or crass. We humans, being corrupt to our core, have a tendency to find humor in vulgar and vile things. This cannot and must not be said about God. We are commanded in Scripture to “let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” found among us (Ephesians 5:4). It would be infinitely more foolish to allow such things to be associated with the Almighty. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). So upfront we need to distinguish such “humor” as worldly, sinful, and evil—having no place among the holy, blessed Trinity. The humor of God is characterized more by satire and irony, not coarse jesting and tactless language.

THE HUMOR OF CHRIST

It was originally the intention of the author to attempt to build a case for the humor of God without resorting to evidence that supports Christ as having a sense of humor. However, upon further research into this topic, it became clear that such a method is actually acceptable and edifying. Jesus Christ said “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” (John 14:7), and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So according to the testimony of Jesus Himself, there are certain aspects of God the Father’s nature that can be understood by setting our eyes upon God the Son. This argument is bolstered even more by the author of Hebrews when he says that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Paul put it another way in Colossians 1:19: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” We can understand the love of God by studying the way that Christ showed love. We can understand the mercy and compassion of God by studying the way that Christ showed mercy and compassion. It should also go to say that something could be learned about the humor of God by studying the humor of Christ and what he had to say about humor.

A Neglected Attribute

The humor of Christ is an aspect of the Son that has been largely neglected. For Elton Trueblood, author of The Humor of Christ, he considers “the widespread failure to recognize and to appreciate the humor of Christ [a]s one of the most amazing aspects of the era named for Him.”[2] G.K. Chesterton even went so far as to say that the one attribute Christ never exhibited during his time on Earth was his humor: “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth: and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.”[3] For Trueblood (as well as the author) the evidence in the Bible goes to show that Chesterton “did not go far enough” in his search for Christ’s humor, for many instances of humor can be found in the ministry of Jesus. Look, for instance at some of the illustrations that Jesus uses to convey His points: Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees for straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24), he criticized the legalists for pointing out the speck in their neighbor’s eye while being completely oblivious to the log that was sticking out of their own (Matthew 7:3). Also note the apparent sarcasm in Christ’s words when he commends the Pharisee’s strategy of bending the Law to justify their actions: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God” (Mark 7:9).

All of these instances are clear and easily discernible usages of humor. It is because of this evidence that the author and Trueblood came to the same conclusion: that “if Christ laughed a great deal, as the evidence shows, and if He is what He claimed to be, we cannot avoid the logical conclusion that there is laughter and gaiety in the heart of God.”[4]

The Value Jesus Placed on Humor

Another way to point out that humor has a place among the many attributes of God is by noticing the value that Jesus placed on humor. In his famous sermon on the mount, Jesus is reciting what has come to be known as the Beatitudes. He encourages His listeners—“Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). Jesus calls the weepers blessed because they will laugh; laughter is the reason why they will be blessed. It is obvious that Jesus regarded laughter as a very good thing, and we know that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Blessed laughter finds its home in the blessed Father.

EXAMPLES OF GOD’S HUMOR

In the most basic sense, we know that God the Father has a sense of humor because the Bible directly tells us that there are instances when He laughs. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; He holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). “But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He sees his day is coming” (Psalm 37:13). In both of these instances, God is laughing at his enemies. This is important to realize because God’s humor is almost always directed toward His enemies. Even Old Testament prophets, inspired by God and filled with the Holy Spirit, would employ humor in their denouncing of wicked men. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal when their cries to their God turned up no results: “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). Mocking and scoffing are humorous ways that God reveals his disposition towards wicked and sinful men.

Another example of God’s humor can be seen in 1 Samuel 5:1-4 in the way that God abuses the statue of Dagon when the Philistine’s stole the Ark and placed it before it:

When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.

One can’t help but laugh at the thought of the Philistine’s reaction whenever they discovered the state of their idol. And not only once, but twice they stumbled upon the overturned statue. The regret that the Philistine’s must have felt upon realizing the mistake they made is humorous. That God could have easily wiped out the entire tribe, but instead chooses to toy with their “god” also shows God’s humorous nature.

Also, notice the hilarity of God involved in the story of Abraham and Sarah as described by Conrad Hyers:

One day when both Sarah and Abraham were very old, Abraham received a revelation that Sarah would bear him a son. On hearing this preposterous bit of news, Abraham fell to the ground in a fit of laughter. It was the most absurd joke he had heard in all of his ninety-nine years. When Sarah heard the news, she, too, laughed at such foolishness! God said, therefore, ‘you shall call his name Isaac’—that is, laughter.[5]

This is classic humor. God tells a man that is “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12) that he will be the father of many nations and then proceeds to name the child “Laughter.” This is one of those kinds of stories that you can’t make up!

Consider also what God has to say about the ostrich in Job 39:13-18:

    The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
    She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
      unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
      She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
      for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
      Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

God intentionally creates the ostrich without wisdom and then mocks her for it. Yet in the end the ostrich, as dimwitted as she may be, is able to “spread her feathers to run” and “laugh at horse and rider.” The mindless, flightless bird is able to have the last laugh! Thus we are given a glimpse into God’s greatest use of humor in his administration and management of the world.

THE GREATEST IRONY

Perhaps the most effectively used type of humor employed by God is irony. The same ironic benefits enjoyed by the ostrich are enjoyed by men. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” God chose illiterate fisherman to confound religious scholars; He chose the youngest, feeblest son of the lowest, weakest tribe to head the strongest, most valiant army the land of Israel ever amassed; God “emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant . . . and humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7), in order to “disarm the powers and authorities, and make a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And in this great hilarity lies the great genius of the Gospel. The Gospel “contains no appeals to human pride, no compliments for human achievement, no eulogies to human wisdom, no promises of economic and political gain . . . instead, insult is piled upon insult.”[6] Human beings are urged by God to forsake their very natures, ignore the deceptive allure that their hearts convince them will satisfy, and lay down their lives at the foot of the cross. It is by losing one’s life that they will find it (Matthew 16:25). This is preposterous, but glorious.

We see this kind of irony most clearly in the topic of suffering, namely the direct link between the suffering of believers and the salvation of the lost. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:10 that we are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” It takes a humorous, rather genius mind to develop a world in which its inhabitants only truly begin to live whenever they truly begin to die. You can almost see the bumper sticker now: “If you ain’t dyin’, you ain’t livin’!” Our God is a master of comedic irony.

FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE

As we have seen, it is certainly biblical and faithful to Scripture to attribute a sense of humor to the nature of God. However, God’s humor, like His many other attributes, must be seen in the backdrop of his many other qualities. We must not elevate God’s humor so as to detract from his seriousness. There are things that God does not find humorous and that He abhors, like lying (Proverbs 6:17), idolatry (Jeremiah 44:2-4), and divorce (Malachi 2:14-16). Such things we also should hate and not joke about. There are also types of humor that God does not find funny, like when a “fool mocks at sin” (Proverbs 14:9). These kinds of humor we should never give sway to. Yes, even our humor needs to be done “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

Although it is nice to be able to be refreshed through laughter and fun, we should always remember that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”, even “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3). And sometimes “it is better to go to the house of mourning” because “the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7). All of this goes to show that we should be wise in deciding when to be humorous. Christians have access to the most complete and pure joy in the world, and laughter and humor act as a great balm for the soul, but we should also be diligent to remember the solemnity of our calling.

CONCLUSION

So, in conclusion, we can see that despite the underwhelming treatment that theologians and scholars of the past have paid to this attribute, enough evidence exists to claim that God has a sense of humor. He is able to laugh with us, and sometimes at us, testifying to the fact that we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously. And our great example is Christ, the author and perfector of our humor. Yes, even in our humor we can look upon Jesus for direction and guidance. It is He, after all, who has loosed us from the gloomy chains of darkness and made us free to pursue true and everlasting joy. How could we not laugh with him!? He has made us free! Free to live, free to love, and free to laugh!

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andrews, Jennifer. 2000. “In the Belly of a Laughing God: Reading Humor and Irony in the Poetry of Joy Harjo.” American Indian Quarterly 24, no. 2: 200. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed May 12, 2013).

Benson, John E. 1983. “The Divine Sense of Humor.” Dialog 22, no. 3: 191-197. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 12, 2013).

Chesterton, G.K.. Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1927).

Halevi, Amitai. 1996. “Does God Have A Sense of Humor? Does duda’im Necessarily Mean Mandrake.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 24, no. 3: 178-182. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 15, 2013).

Hyers, Conrad. And God Created Laughter (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987).

Jacobson, Rolf, and Karl N. Jacobson. “Everyone Who Hears Will Laugh With Me”: Humor and Telling God’s Truth.” Word & World 32, no. 2 (March 1, 2012): 107-116. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 12, 2013).

Parrott, Bob. God’s Sense of Humor: Where? When? How? (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984).

Parrott, Bob. Ontology of Humor. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1982).

Quinn, Arthur. 1992. “The Mirth of God : An Essay On Biblical Humor.” In Play, Literature, Religion, 41-59. Albany: State Univ of New York Pr, 1992. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 11, 2013).

Trueblood, Elton. The Humor of Christ (New York: Harper and Row, 1964).

ENDNOTES

[1] The American Heritage Dictionary, s.v. “humor, sense of.”

[2] Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 15.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1927), 299.

[4] Trueblood, 32.

[5] Conrad Hyers, And God Created Laughter (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 9.

[6] Hyers, 1

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