Laughter is great. It is a human privilege. Animals may make us laugh. They do funny things on occasion (give your dog a spoonful of peanut butter if you don’t believe me). But animals are not intending to be funny. They don’t tell jokes. You won’t see a monkey at the zoo doing stand up, or a pig make a pun. Laughter is a gift from God, somehow tied to being made in his image.
Laughing with friends and family can be one of the greatest joys in life. I confess that I’m one of those who love a good joke, but can never remember them. Being a good joke-teller, like a good storyteller, is a gift. It can be developed, practiced, and caught by hanging around funny people, but by and large I believe you’re either born with it or you’re not.
Yet, like every good gift, when torn away from its God-centered, God-glorifying intention, it becomes another way to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. In other words, humor, like the rest of this fallen world in which we live is bent toward sin. Just think of how difficult it is to find a comedy from your local RedBox that does not contain a heavy dose of objectionable material.
Sadly, we often use humor like spiritual Novocain. The phrase, “It’s so funny,” will numb us to the reality that the content we are taking in is damaging to our soul, corrupting our view of God and His world, and stealing hours away from activity that might actually make a difference for eternity. If we are so bold to call into question the media discretion of a brother or sister in Christ, we are often met with the retort, “Well, what about the shows that you watch?,” or “You’re just being legalistic,” or the all excusing, “But it’s so funny.”
I don’t think this issue is new or peculiar to American Christians. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis describes this same tendency in 1940s England. Here is a brief excerpt…
The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English, who take their “sense of humour” so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is “mean”; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer “mean” but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient by that English seriousness about Humour. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as “Puritanical” or as betraying a “lack of humour.”
Humor and laughter are gifts from God. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s enjoy it. Let’s redeem it. Let’s show the world that they didn’t invent humor, or laughter, the Creator of the world did.
Be ye funny, and do not sin.