Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Does God have a sense of humor?

Tonight I am leading a discussion with a group of our students, “Does God have a sense of humor?” This is actually a topic that was selected by the students; it is our first meeting this year after meeting several times last semester. Most of us believers would answer yes (some theologians have said no in the sense that we can’t move God to laugh) based on our experiences. I have plenty of anecdotes and stories that have continuously shown me God’s great sense of humor and plan on using a few tonight.

There are many ways to define humor. Humor can be wit, sarcasm, irony, poking fun at ourselves or others, etc. One of the best ways to describe humor, especially in the Christian sense, comes through humility: not taking ourselves so seriously. So, a humble person could have a great sense of humor without much wit. Conversely, a proud person with all kinds of one-liners could have a poor sense of humor. Father Daniel Lord, S.J., once prayed, “Let me have too deep a sense of humor ever to be proud. Let me know my absurdity before I act absurdly. Let me realize that when I am humble I am most human, most truthful, and most worthy of your consideration.”

The best way to know if God has a sense of humor is to go the source: Divine Revelation. In Scripture, we read that “the one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them” (Psalm 2:4) and “You, Lord, laugh at them; you deride all the nations” (Ps 39:9). I know God has had a good time laughing at some of my nonsense over the years; it’s been that way with mankind since the beginning. Mother Teresa used to say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”.

God showed some humor with Job as narrated by an online author: 

"Job became quite sarcastic after his life became miserable and the Book of Job is replete with sarcastic remarks. Job’s explanation regarding the righteous person that suffers was (Job 12:4): 'The completely righteous man is a laughingstock.' Job demanded to confront God and know the reason for all his suffering. Job’s wish was granted, and God said to him (Job 38:4): 'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?' Or, in other words, when you create your own world, then you can tell me how to run mine."

The Cross of Jesus Christ is the sign of many things. It is the sign of God’s love, mercy, generosity, kindness, etc. It is also the sign of God’s sense of humor. Talk about not taking yourself so seriously! He is God…on a Cross! He is stripped, beaten, and bruised. It is the ultimate sign of humility…the ultimate sign of humor. Specifically, though, Jesus had some good one-liners. They may not fall into the “LOL” (Laughing Out Loud) category, but they show that he was fun. In Lk 24, he’s walking along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection. He asks them what they are discussing. They replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” His comeback: “what sort of things?” They were talking about him! He obviously knew that and was being ironic. I wonder if they got that one later on.

Here is a nice online description of the story in Mark 7 in which Jesus enjoys the humor of a woman:

"Picture the setting for Jesus' quick repartee with the Syro-phoenician woman who interrupted his meal (Mark 7). He blends ethnic humor and a playful challenge to this Gentile kneeling at his feet. She rolls with his humor (yes, humor can be present amid serious matters), and as we say today she 'flipped it back at him.':

"For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth (a Gentile or non-Israelite), and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

"But Jesus said to her, 'Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.'

"And she answered and said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.'

"Then He said to her, 'For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.'” (Mark 7:25-29, NKJV)

Jesus must have smiled when he immediately granted her request."

If Revelation does not convince us that God has a sense of humor, then a mirror can. Look at us! We see and hear humor every day. We do not doubt for a second that human beings can have a sense of humor. Where did we get it? From Almighty God. We are made in His image and likeness. We reflect God’s image…His beauty, intelligence, and yes, humor. Many of the saints were very funny and enjoyed practical jokes. St. Augustine’s classic line shows his wit: “Lord, give me chastity, but not right now”. St Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa, “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes."

One of the funnier lines from people in Scripture comes at Pentecost. The Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke with tongues of fire in several different languages about Jesus. The people who heard this assumed that they were drunk. Peter replied, “It is only nine o’clock in the morning” (Acts 2:15). Good timing on the part of the Holy Spirit (as with most humor); a few hours later in the day and we might not have the Church we have.

Finally, here’s another take on humor from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

We say a person has a "sense of humor" if he can "see through things"... God made the world with a "sense of humor," in the sense that we were to see Him through His creation: to see His Power in the mountains, His Beauty in the sunset, His Wisdom in a snowflake, His Love in the human heart. Poets have inherited this sense of humor for, like Thompson, they can look at the sun and see in it the Host that is raised in Benediction over the world, and at night set in the Flaming Monstrance of the west. Saints must have a sense of humor, so as to be able to see a resurrection through the trials and sorrows of life.

Man loses his sense of humor through sin. He begins to take money seriously, flesh seriously, business seriously, food seriously. These have no other purpose than just to satisfy him. Now Christmas Day was the restoration of humor, and those who displayed it most were the shepherds and the wise men. They came to this little Babe and "saw through Him" - God Himself. His Flesh was the Sacrament of His Divinity. When the Babe grew, He taught parables in or with a sense of Divine Humor. Salt and camels, sheep and goats, patches on old clothing, wine in old bottles, businessmen, traders, were not to be taken seriously. All were telltale of something else. Christmas then is a romance and a joy only to those who have a sense of humor, whose vision is not opaque when they look at a Babe, but can see through Him all the problems of life answered in the vision of God Who appeared as a Man. They who pass through this life with that sense of humor, which is faith, will one day be rewarded by the one thing that will make heaven Heaven - His Smile.


Anonymous said...

I saw the following prayer on FaceBook:

Dear Lord, keep your arm around my shoulders and your hand over my mouth. Amen.

Robert Owen Hood said...

Chesterton hints at something similar at the end of Orthodoxy, that God showed us many sides of himself through Jesus when he walked on earth but there was one part of him to great to show man, His mirth.

Thanks for another great post!

Anonymous said...

If Christ doesn’t have a sense of humor I’m in big trouble…. I laugh at myself and life - a lot. It’s one of the things that helps me carry my cross. It seems that the weight of my cross changes like the weather here in D.C. One day or moment my cross feels like it’s made from balsa wood and then, wham bammy, something happens and it begins to feel like it’s made of concrete and I get really tired and worn out while trying to carry it. Levity seems to make my cross easier to carry.

I also hope Christ continues to have really bad memory, so that when I fall while carrying my cross, which I do frequently, He’ll continue to forget that I often fall for the same reasons, over and over. When I let Him know (through Confession) that I’ve screwed up.... again, He forgives me as if we’ve never dealt with the issue before. I keep waiting for Him to roll His eyes, stretch, yawn or look at His watch, but He doesn’t. He just patiently listens, offers guidance and sends me on my way with a love that I cannot replicate – through people or things.

Anonymous said...

I love that God has a sense of humor, it makes life a little lighter, it helps me breathe easy :) Thank you!