Vol.XVII No.IX Pg.2
November 1980

Did Christ Laugh?

Robert F. Turner

Do the scriptures contain humor? Elton Trueblood's book, "The Humor of Christ," raises provocative thoughts on this question. Of course your answer will depend on your definition of humor, or on your ability to "see" it in familiar texts you never suspected of holding such a thing. Absurdly ridiculous situations make us laugh. Imagine someone trying to hide a donkey underneath his shirt. Or how about someone carefully straining his tea to remove a gnat; then striving to swallow an ungainly, club-footed, two-humped camel that stepped into the same tea?

A little child could see humor in that (Matt. 23:24) because his mind is not yet stiff with conventionality. The child can not classify Jesus' statement as ironic humor, but he can know the Lord is "making fun" of one who would attempt such a thing. Imagine anyone expecting the dead to bury the dead (Lu. 9:60), or putting a lamp under the bed (Mk. 4:21. What is so terrible about recognizing that the Jesus who "came eating and drinking" (Matt. 11:19) also couched some of his lessons in Son-of-man humor?

Though sometimes difficult to do, we must draw an obvious line between the above and "foolish jesting." Our society, and our fallacious judgment, may lead us astray at times. But we are convinced that a "piety" that smothers clean humor is unreal. We should expect the message from God to be in a framework of communication suited to the nature of the intended receiver-- man oriented without man's sin — and man is the only animal God made that truly laughs.

What we laugh about is a reasonable measure of our character. We may prove ourselves filthy-minded, unfeeling for the plight of others, or just frivolous. Or, a failure to respond to genuine humor may reveal a pompous person who mistakes self-righteousness for godliness. Samuel Johnson is reported to have quipped, "A man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat, will not find his way thither sooner in a gray one."

Laughter may be the specific remedy for vanity, especially when we can be made to see ourselves in the situation, and laugh at ourselves. It is a humbling experience, which may bring a man one step closer to heaven.

Pity the man who has no appreciation for a sharp wit; who is unable to see communicative value in a play on words or a pungent retort, even if the "joke is on us." I recall the Baptist debater who said, "You strain at a gnat, but swallow A. Campbell." Did he see something I will not see??