“Thirteen glasses of water, please!” Jesus said to the barman, winking at his disciples…and the bartender says, “Close the door, were you born in a barn?”
Something has always bothered me about God’s response to Job from the whirlwind. He has experienced the pinnacle of human suffering–losing his business and his children, being abandoned by his wife, and realizing that his “friends” are miserable comforters–then God finally appears to Job. However, God does not pull out a warm blanket, wrap it around Job and tell him it’s all going to be alright. Rather, God utilizes a very strange tactic:
He looks at this man and says, “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundations? Who stretched a measuring line across it? Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?” God starts to pepper him with over 70 questions that are absurd. Like a comedian, God uses the absurd illustration to emphasis his point. While we may find this tactic appalling, it appears that Job did not. For Job this approach worked.
Fabio Sala writes that “Humor, used skillfully…reduces hostility, deflects critcism, relieves tension, improves morale and helps communicate difficult messages.”^
In a sense, all of this is what God accomplishes with his list of absurdity. It reduces Job’s hostility, it relieves tension and allows Job to feel better. Job rebounds from the ash heap of life.
Used among friends, sarcasm, goading and humor can have a strange effect. It is able to pull a man out of his persistent pain. Viktor Frankl discovered this from his experience in a concentration camp: “Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”*
Unfortunately, for most of us, we fail to see God as a humorist.
Yet Jesus was skilled at humor. Don Everts captures this well in The Smell of Sin. Even when addressing the atrocities of our human sin, Jesus uses absurdly humorous word pictures to capture human nature. Jesus describes these Pharisees as “Mr. Plank Eye” and “Mr. Camel Gut” and “Mrs. Shiny Corpse.” Also, have you ever noticed that Jesus nicknamed all of his close friends–Cephas becomes The Rock, James and John become “Sons of Commotion.” In fact, the walk to Emmaus was a bit of a practical joke…they walked for miles while Jesus just listened to these two disciples telling Him his life story. I can picture him stifling a smile when they start waving their arms around getting carried away at how this seemingly normal guy was able to turn dirty footwashing water into the best Bordeaux anyone had ever tasted.
Perhaps it threatens your picture of the meek and mild Jesus to consider that he may have had a sly sense of humor but “studies have shown that humorous people are seen as friendly, extroverted, considerate, interesting, imaginative, intelligent, perceptive and emotionally stable.”+ We see all of these characteristics in Jesus as well. So maybe, just maybe he told a joke or two.
Humor helps us to drop our guards and trust someone. Humor helps to humanize us and make us much more likable. Humor helps us “win the right to be heard.” Humor helps the message stick. Therefore, I need Jesus to be funny.
If Jesus did not take himself so seriously, why do we need to take ourselves so seriously? How would this change the way you view your relationship with Jesus?
* Fabo Sala, “Laughing All the Way to the Bank,” Havard Business Review.
^ Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 43.
+ Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED.
–You can thank/blame reddit for the opening joke, too.