Does God laugh? Would Jesus ever tell a joke? What type of humor should Christians enjoy? This refreshing article reveals both the biblical principles and the medicinal qualities of laughter and humor — and how they can add spice to your life!
How LONG has it been since you allowed yourself a good laugh? Are you still young at heart? Can you "take a joke"? Have you learned the art of laughing at yourself and some of the silly mistakes we all make? An unbalanced society has sometimes left us unbalanced even in our approach to good clean fun and humor. Often we take ourselves too seriously and miss out on the enjoyment in life that God wants us to have. Certainly our job, calling, and responsibilities are to be taken seriously. But too often we find ourselves just having to endure life or solemnly trying to "hang in there," when a little humor could make our lives much more enjoyable.
"The Importance of Having Fun"
The famous and beloved comedian Bob Hope wrote an article titled "The importance of Having Fun." Discussing the many beneficial aspects of humor, he wrote: "Having entertained wounded GIs in three wars, I have seen the healing power of laughter. Science has confirmed that having fun — just feeling happy or joyous — has a measurable effect on our health and well-being. It is a great relaxer: a simple ping-pong match even relaxed tensions between the United States and mainland China. Increasingly, fun, pleasure and games are being used in ingenious ways for everything from teaching children (television's Sesame Street) to helping hospital patients get well more quickly.... "Hospitals now are finding that happier patients can be cured more quickly and effectively. The prescription is fun and cheerful surroundings. I first learned of laughter's benefits when I began visiting hospitals in World War II, and I'm still seeing it in Vietnam. I don't do much: just a hello, a handshake and a quip or two for each patient, but it always seems to give them a little lift." Speaking about those who have heavy responsibilities to shoulder, Bob Hope continued: "Each of our recent Presidents has had a good sense of humor, and has found that an interlude of jokes and relaxation is a necessary respite from the heavy burden of office. Moreover, none has seemed to mind the kidding I've aimed at him. 'Harry Truman runs the country with an iron hand,' I said in entertaining him once, 'and he plays the piano the same way.' When I performed for Eisenhower, I poked fun at his frequent travels. 'It's a good thing we're paying him a salary,' I said. 'Think where we'd be if we paid him by the mile.' I also got some laughs about playing golf with him. 'The General plays like a real military man,' I said. 'He strokes the ball toward the hole and yells, fall in!'"
Science Sees the Pun
In a syndicated newspaper column, Your Good Health, Dr. T. R. Van Dellen tells of the medicinal qualities of laughter: "Laughter has a relaxing effect on the nervous system and is said to improve digestion and well-being. Although we have no proof that a hearty laugh benefits the heart, it is conceivable that laughter lowers the blood pressure when it is high and raises it when it is low. Laughter also is good exercise. When someone has a hearty laugh, the diaphragm shakes up and down and air is drawn into the lungs by means of long, deep intake and expelled in a series of bursts." In concluding his article, Dr. Van Dellen wrote: "This [laughter} is one of our most precious possessions and those with this trait are able to ward off the buffets of the outside world and convert them into pleasure. Humor helps conserve energy that would otherwise be expended in anger, pain, horror, fear, or despair." Pioneer researcher Dr. Edward Podolsky proved that laughter at the dinner table helps. to make the digestive juices work better. For his interesting study, Dr. Podolsky fed two groups of college students the same diet for two weeks. One group was "entertained" with scientific lectures. The second group was treated to the patter and monologue of a professional comedian. To the surprise of practically no one, the group of collegians who laughed through their meals checked in with healthier, "noticeably improved digestion. John Eppingham, in the National Enquirer, gave some further interesting facts in an article entitled "What Your Sense of Humor Reveals About Your Personality": "Virtually everybody likes to laugh," he observed, "to be amused, to have their funnybones tickled — but people vary tremendously in their capacity to appreciate humor and to respond to it. Some go through life finding very little that strikes them as laughable. Others seek amusement and diversion as some seek happiness — by running after it — and the result more often than not is disappointment. Still others have the ability to see the funny side of almost any situation. "It goes without saying that the better your sense of humor, the more enjoyment you are getting out of life. And scientists have also found that your sense of humor reveals a great deal about your character, personality and general outlook on life."
It's in the Book
Is there humor in the Bible? Yes indeed! Over thirty scriptures speak directly of laughter. And God inspired them. Our loving Father favors good uplifting humor. God is a happy individual. I Timothy 1:11 reads: "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed [the Greek here means "happy"] God, which was committed to my trust." Psalm 16:11 states: "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." God is not a stern Judge who solemnly judges away 24 hours a day, looking for a way or chance to "get us." Not at all. Due to wrong teachings in the past, some of us have formed gross misconceptions concerning God. His life is filled with fun and enjoyment. He enjoys eternal life and wants us to enjoy our physical lives. Both He and Jesus probably stop work at times to have a good laugh, especially at some of the silly things we humans do and the situations we get ourselves into. God is balanced in every aspect of His life and wants us to be also.
Tell It Like It Is
God reveals His sense of humor in three basic ways. The first becomes obvious when we analyze ourselves. We are made in His image, mentally as well as physically. He has given us the ability to have a sense of humor. Therefore it is a part of His own character and personality. Also, He had this ability first to be able to pass it on to us. The second proof of God's humor is seen in nature. Since the whole creation — not ourselves alone — is a reflection of God's thinking and character, we should be able to learn a considerable amount about His sense of humor by observing the other things He created. Remember the fun and laughs you had observing the waddle of a duck. Or watching a penguin on TV or in a zoo? How about the duckbill platypus? The bray of a jackass? Monkeys at the zoo? And do you remember the Walt Disney films about the animal world? Do you recall the scene where the ducks were landing on a frozen lake, skidding into one another? Biblical humor is the third expression of this aspect of God's mind. Humorous incidents in the Bible generally contain a lesson, and an analysis usually reveals a principle or purpose behind them. To really enjoy humor in the Bible we need a vivid imagination and the ability to read between the lines. We must vicariously project ourselves into the account, remembering they are true stories that happened to real people. Balaam's ass and the conversation that ensued in Numbers 22 is a case in point. It's really funny to read the account (verses 21-31) using The Living Bible. As the episode begins, God opens the donkey's eyes to see an angel of the Lord standing in the road blocking the way. Balaam, however, cannot see the angel. Unable to pass by the angel, the donkey runs off the road into the field. Balaam naturally is more than a little befuddled by his formerly faithful donkey's actions. Thinking his usually trusty steed is indulging in a little stubbornness to assert her independence, he clouts her! But the frightened donkey still can't get by the angel holding the sword. So in confusion the ass veers again to the side, this time scraping poor Balaam's foot against a wall. Balaam angrily smites the donkey again. Now remember that the princes of Moab were along all this time, and by now probably were clutching their sides and laughing uproariously. But let's pick up the story in The Living Bible, beginning in verse 26: "Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place so narrow that the donkey could not get by at all. So she lay down in the road! In a great fit of temper Balaam beat her again with his staff. "Then the Lord caused the donkey to speak! 'What have I done that deserves your beating me these three times?' she asked. "'Because you have made me look like a fool!' Balaam shouted. 'I wish I had a sword with me, for I would kill you.' "'Have I ever done anything like this before in my entire life?' the donkey asked. "'No,' he admitted." What a hilarious experience it must have been to have observed their expressions and antics as God completely embarrassed, confused and emotionally unraveled this highly respected, dignified pagan priest with a common old flop-eared ass! This is but one of many similar humorous incidents you will find as you read and study your Bible. Try to develop an eye for them and you will find your Bible study becoming much more interesting, colorful and entertaining. You will also find yourself looking on the "lighter side" of your own life more often.
Like Father Like Son
Our Savior enjoyed good clean humor with His disciples. We have one account where He used a little good-natured ribbing of two of His disciples. James and John were sons of Zebedee — a fisherman. Before conversion both sons were apparently incompassionate, quick to act and to judge. They had a cock-sure "hellfire and damnation" approach to life (see Mark 9:38). Due to their temper and other traits of human nature, Jesus nicknamed them "Boanerges" meaning "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17), which meant they were a couple of loud-talking "hot heads." Another example concerns the authority and job of John the baptist. The multitude of skeptics and the just plain curious had listened to all kinds of tales concerning John's mode of living, his appearance and message. And many had gone out to see him like those of today who attend a sideshow or carnival hoping to see the world's fattest lady or the circus freak from Borneo with four arms and two heads. Jesus used a bit of sarcasm on them as He got a point across in a humorous way. He said, "When you went out into the barren wilderness to see John, what did you expect him to be like? Grass blowing in the wind [a weak-kneed, odd fanatic)? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed as a prince in a palace?" (Matt. 11:7-8, The Living Bible.) He probably spoke in a joking tone and manner to get the point across.
Did You Hear the One About...?
Should you tell jokes? That is pretty much an individual matter. But remember, what's funny to one is not to another. There is an art in being a good joke teller. A lot depends on the current circumstances and mood of the audience at that time. What was really funny on club night might not be so funny if you told it after Sabbath services. Also, the joke another person told successfully might not fit your style or personality. Maybe your conscience would bother you to tell the same one he or she told. If so, then you're better off not telling it. Ethnic jokes? Possibly. Simple jokes about the Irish, Scots, Jews, Poles, etc., can be O.K., IF they show a lesson or principle in a positive way and do not present a race or nationality in a bad light or make it a "put down." But be extremely careful. Many persons are abnormally sensitive about their race or national origin and can easily become offended even though you had no intention whatever of holding them up to ridicule or derision.
Be Christian About It
Here are some general guidelines to use in telling jokes. To begin with, we should be careful not to make light of or make fun out of sin. Be positive. Use tact and do not carry the joke too far. Be careful of barbs or digs. Don't inject a hidden dagger so you leave the hearer figuratively bleeding when it's over. Analyze your motive and purpose for telling the joke. Humor can hurt and be cruel if not used with proper wisdom and forethought. Good jokes are non-offensive. Sometimes it's fine to do a little "kidding" with people, but they must know and understand that you are kidding and that is all you mean by it. Finally, as God's chosen people, we should certainly avoid the kind of "dirty jokes" we all knew and heard before conversion. Let's be as careful and circumspect in this aspect of our Christian lives as with everything else we do and say.
A Time for Everything
We are all striving for a better balance in life. Among the many things that go to make a balanced life is humor. There is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (Eccl. 3:4). All too often (and this is a real irony) many in this society have to cheer up Christians ! But it should be the other way around. They should see our light, our happy faces and personalities that radiate warmth, joy and friendliness, and demonstrate that God's way really works. This is one of the chief ways we honor God.
Do Yourself a Favor
In his book, Man of Steel and Velvet, Aubrey Andelin states, "It has been observed that a characteristic of healthy and long-lived persons is a sense of humor. It is as though their optimistic attitude were supplying a physical nourishment to their bodies — a sort of vitamin supplement. These people realize that to take themselves too seriously is a deadly mistake. Life is going on anyway, and somehow things always work out regardless of how gloomy the picture looks at some low point. Humor will often bring the picture into sharper focus. Abraham Lincoln was gifted in this respect, and through this means cut down gigantic problems to a size he could manage. Bitterness and rancor are impossible when one's sense of humor is functioning" (page 89). The habit of happiness is extreme! valuable. Despondent or negative attitudes can perk up. Homes can be made happier. Dispositions and personalities can be brightened. Life can take on a fuller meaning. Learn to enjoy life to the degree that God wants you to. Begin to look at the lighter side of life. Be on the lookout for humorous happenings that you can share with others. Cultivate the habit of joy in your life. No living creature can laugh except man. Trees may bleed when they are wounded. Beasts in the field will cry in pain and hunger. Yet only humans have the gift of laughter and can use it as they will. We can choose to smile and improve our digestion, and chuckle to lighten our burdens. Proverbs 17:22 shows that "A merry [cheerful] heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones." Proverbs 15:13 shows also the effects of joy and sorrow: " A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken." Humor is highly contagious. Laughter is probably the best "medicine" you could ever take for some of your troubles. So take a dose! Laugh a little, live a little and thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon you.