It’s Okay to Laugh

Tales From the Funniest Book Ever Written

Will Ryan / 6.10.22

There’s a secret I want to share with you. You might have heard whispers about it. Someone might have tried to tell you about it already. You might have even caught glimpses of it yourself, but quickly removed the idea from your head.

The Bible is funny.

You read that right. There are stories and lines in scripture that are meant to be humorous, meant to bring a bit of levity, and meant to make you chuckle.

You wouldn’t know it by the way some people in the church think and act. “This is church! We can’t have nonsense here. This is serious stuff.” There can’t possibly be humor in the Bible because Christians are those people who are tight-lipped, buttoned-up, and ready to quash anything not dour. If there’s a stereotype of the church and Christians I come back to again and again it’s the town in Footloose run by John Lithgow’s Rev. Shaw. That might be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s a well-earned stereotype. But it’s nothing more than a stereotype, at least when it comes to the Good Book we’ve been given.

There’s the story of Sarah falling down on the ground laughing because she couldn’t possibly have a child at her age. I wonder how everyone acted at the baby shower thrown for her when everyone had already chipped in to buy her that retirement present decades ago.

Or how about the story of Elisha who flies into a rage and sicks a bear on some kids who pointed and laughed, making fun of him because he was bald? I mean, he’s probably walking away muttering to himself about how that’ll teach some disrespectful kids to stay off his lawn.

Then, of course, there’s the story of Jonah. He acts the part of a toddler, throwing a massive temper tantrum because God wants to save people he doesn’t like. Of course, running away works about as much as any temper tantrum as he finds himself using his travel Kleenex pack as toilet paper in the belly of a fish.

The story of Pentecost is one of those funny stories too. The Holy Spirit comes to the disciples and empowers them to share the gospel with those gathered for the festivities of the day in Jerusalem. But instead of coming like a beautiful and serene dove, it’s more like a tornado with how fast they’re tossed from the house. That actually suits them just fine because it looked like their taste buds were going to be burned off (and I’m not talking about eating tortilla chips and ghost pepper salsa).

But once out of the house, they now find themselves in the midst of a crowd shouting and talking. Except it seems like they’ve had a crash course in Babbel or Duolingo because these country bumpkins seem to have developed the ability to speak in languages they had no reason to speak. The crowd is split. Some are receptive and curious as to why these hillbillies are linguaphiles, but others scoff and question whether or not the disciples have been imbibing a bit too much in the bottomless mimosas.

Peter takes the occasion to share the good news, but not before he clarifies a thing or two: “These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!” (Acts 2:15) Apparently, Peter’s never been to a college tailgate on homecoming!

Maybe Peter is being earnest, but you can’t tell me that line’s not funny. I can definitely imagine John Belushi saying something like that. And I like to imagine he’s acting the part of a comic, warming the crowd up before he gets into the real meat. “Oh, you think that’s funny? Well, listen to this…” because, at its root, the gospel is comedy too. It’s not only our Good Book, our main message is comical.

Think about it for a sec. I mean really think about it.

The Gospel is based on the story of a failed carpenter of a bachelor, who really is God just in human cosplay, revealing the very heart of the Ruler of the Universe by being executed by Church and State alike in the way reserved for the lowest of the low. And somehow death’s vice-like grip was not able to hold him down for the referee’s count of three.

More than that, his dying smashed all the abacuses counting the wrong things you’ve done and undone. And his being raised? That was to give you the same inherent goodness with which he lived his life.

Don’t even get me started on how his death and resurrection is the key to unlocking a life hitherto unheard of for each and every person on this third rock from the sun.

Frederich Buechner got at it when he wrote his great litany, Telling the Truth:

The folly of preaching Christ crucified, preaching the king who looks like a ramp, the prince of peace who looks like the prince of fools, the lamb of God who ends up like something hung up at the butcher’s. Dostoevsky echoes this when he writes a novel about Christ as a Russian prince and calls it The Idiot. The painter Rouault echoes it when he paints Christ as a clown. The musical Godspell echoes it by rigging him out as if for a three-ring circus in white-face and acrobat’s tights (60).

It doesn’t make sense. It’s foolish and foolhardy. It’s enough to make you laugh out loud. But that’s just how God works. It’s funny because it’s true. Paul wrote, God chose what was foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27), but it could just as easily be understood that God chose what was laughable to embarrass those who take themselves too seriously.

God does seem to have a sense of humor, at least the Bible tells me so.

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One response to “It’s Okay to Laugh”

  1. Colin Craig says:

    Thank you for the great examples and article Will. The often ludicrous and absurd seeming nature of the Gospels and the savior that Jesus is is quite comical at times. Feels like a reflection of how absurd our own lives feel and often are.

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