Comedy to the Glory of God

A person can trivialize almost any sin by making it a joke. So observed C. S. Lewis.[1] That’s tragic because God created humor and laughter. We feel his goodness when we laugh. Yet as with every good thing God made, we have perverted it with sin.

How should Christians think about humor?

One of my favorite high school memories was seeing Saturday Night Live in person. The Three Amigos is probably my favorite movie of all time. And once upon a time I could quote verbatim Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up special I’m Telling You for the Last Time.

Yet as you know, all this humor has a dark side and there’s a light side. And the way we use it reveals whether we treasure sin or Christ.

A Dark Side

One way we can use humor is to win praise and attention. When this is the case, we easily become crude or hurtful. The praise of others is what we want, not pleasing God. And we will misuse humor to get it.

Humor can also be used to discredit people unjustly. We mock them and treat them as “the other,” Alan Jacobs has observed.[2] We treat them as a punchline rather than an image bearer. If called on it, we have the easy escape valve: “I was just kidding.” Yet the damage has been done, leaving the victim holding the pieces. Beneath the mocking, of course, is another sin: an idolatrous desire for maintaining power socially, politically, or vocationally.

Sadly, humor is a favorite tool of bullies. Apparently, famed comedian Chevy Chase had a knack for pin-pointing the thing a person was most sensitive about and then teasing them about it mercilessly.[3] Using humor this way allows us to maintain power. Other times we tease people insensitively simply because we value a laugh more than God or neighbor.

A Brighter Side

Yet what does the Bible say about humor? Not much directly, but the Bible has plenty of material about how to use our words.

Paul tells us to build each other up with our words and to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:29). And surely such instruction covers our humor.

This might mean not taking ourselves too seriously. It means making jokes at our own expense rather than at the expense of others. I trust you know how refreshing it is to be around people who make fun of themselves.

To use humor well means not envying others. It means giving up power and control. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines what is required in the eighth commandment (do not steal) as “the furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” We should seek to further the wealth and estate of others financially but also socially. This means laying down control to make someone else look good, or blessing a group with a laugh at our own expense.

Humor Transformed

God glorifying humor loves God more than our sin. It loves our neighbor more than a laugh. It gives up control.

In other words, God glorifying humor is hard because it means giving up the glory we desire, and that doesn’t come easily. Yet it is easy for a heart that’s filled with Christ. As John Owen said, the best way to fight sin is to “keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ.”[4]

If we begin there, think about how our humor will be transformed. We don’t need to make jokes in order to trivialize our sin or to garner praise because Christ and his love is our most prized possession. We can give up power socially, vocationally or politically looking to Jesus who gave his life in our place. With a heart full of the love of Christ, we will use humor to build up, encourage, give joy, make much of others, and point people toward the God who created laughter.

Now, isn’t that a better use of laughter?

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 2001). 55-56.

[2] Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (New York: Currency, 2017). 83.

[3] Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad, Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live (San Francisco: Untreed Reads Publishing, LLC, 2014). Chapter 7.

[4] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Redesign edition. (Crossway, 2015). 204.

Published by Mike


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