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Jesus’ sense of humor

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Si Robertson of the tremendously popular A&E television show, Duck Dynasty, has said that the fact that four guys with long beards could become TV stars shows that God has a sense of humor. For some Christians, the notion that God has a sense of humor makes perfect sense; for others, it may be uncomfortable, even offensive. Many dramatic portrayals of Christ show him to be solemn and austere, and while the intention may be to safeguard reverence and respect, is something lost when we perceive Jesus as overly somber?

1. Jesus’ humanity demands that he had a sense of humor

The Lutheran Hour’s Rev. Ken Klaus has stated that there is much in the New Testament which leads us to believe Jesus had a sense of humor.

In John 10, Jesus’ opponents are getting ready to throw stones at him. Jesus responded by saying, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?” The Lutheran Hour cited this as an example of Jesus “using humor to disarm his opponents”.

Klaus also said there is some humor in Jesus giving the nickname “Peter”, which means “Rock” to his disciple, Simon:

“When you think of somebody called ‘Rocky,’ you think of someone you can count on; someone who is solid, somebody who is tough. But that's not Simon Peter. Peter couldn't do two things in a row which were consistent… First he said Jesus shouldn't wash his feet and then he asked Jesus to wash all of him. [In Matthew 16] he gave this beautiful statement of faith and then seven verses later he's trying to talk Jesus out of going to Jerusalem to die. Calling Peter ‘the Rock’ would have been like calling… somebody in the NBA ‘Shorty.’ The disciples would have got the joke.”

In his March 12, 2012 Relevant magazine article, “Jesus was funnier than we think”, James S. Martin said that our failure to come to terms with Jesus having a sense of humor could be an indication that Jesus’ humanity itself makes us a little uncomfortable:

“I think that more than a few contemporary Christians are still ‘closet Docetists.’ That is, although they buy into the idea of Jesus’ humanity, they are still inclined to think of Him as God simply pretending, or playacting, at being human. But if we accept the idea of Him as a human being, we must accept all human attributes for him—laughing as well as suffering.”

Martin said Jesus’ humor is evident in everything from his witty parables to his “zippy asides to the Roman authorities” and his “tart replies to the scribes and the Pharisees.”

2. Old Testament examples of humor

Jesus’ humor flows not only from his human nature, but his divine nature as well. Jesus laughing and having fun with his disciples is only irreverent if we presuppose such actions to be beneath God’s dignity. At times, though, the Bible can be a very funny book, Old Testament and New Testament alike.

As far as Biblical humor goes, one of this examiner’s personal favorites is Nehemiah 13:25. After seeing that certain of his countrymen have gone against Jewish law and married idolatrous women, Nehemiah confronts them, saying, “I contended with them, and cursed them, and struck certain of them, and plucked off their hair.” It’s hard to read this great Jewish leader’s narration without a mental image of The Three Stooges and Moe pulling Larry’s hair out popping up.

Another great example is Job 39:17. In describing the ostrich, the passage says, “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense.”

In her Christianity Today article, “Does God have a sense of humor?”, JoHannah Reardon explained that our ability to process certain things as funny is itself an ability we derived from God. Humor itself is not a result of our being fallen; it’s embedded in creation. She said:

“Surely [God] made creatures such as the otter, dolphin, and penguin, just because they delighted him so much.”

Reardon, managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com, said that the book of Proverbs is where Biblical humor is most easy to spot:

“If you read [Proverbs] aloud to a group, it's difficult not to laugh. You wonder if Solomon had just fought with one of his many wives when he said, ‘Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife’ (21:9). However, my favorite proverb is 22:13, ‘The sluggard says, 'There is a lion outside!'’ That sounds like as good excuse as any to me on days when I feel lazy. I don't recommend trying it with your boss next Monday though.”

3. Conclusion

Reardon clarified that God’s humor, unlike that of fallen humans, is never cruel. Echoing this sentiment, in The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis brilliantly distinguished between real humor, which is good, and flippancy, which is bad.

“Among flippant people… every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. Flippancy … is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.”

May we remember the words of Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Thank God for the blessing of humor.

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