The Paper Pulpit
I believe the ability to laugh is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Our five senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling — would be incomplete without a sixth sense, a sense of humor. Anything we can laugh at we can live with. We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing. If you are too busy to laugh, you are busier than you need to be.
Humor is the oil that God squirts on our troubles to lubricate the friction. It is how He tickles the world that takes itself too seriously. The reason a sense of humor is so important is that it can help you overlook the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected and smile through the unbearable. The best sense of humor belongs to the person who can laugh at himself.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in Discerning the Signs of the Times, said: “Humor is the prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” What Niebuhr is saying is that humor and laughter can not only make a tremendous difference in our relationships with others, but can also be the front door through we enter into a healthy relationship with God.
Humor can build a bridge, or tear down a wall. It can bring down the proud, or lift up the discouraged and downtrodden. It can be, and often is, an escape route from awkward situations. And it is in one way like a needle and thread — deftly used it can patch up just about anything.
Humans have an almost infinite variety of ways of expressing humor. When we use irony, we essentially say one thing while meaning another. Sarcasm is irony with more bite to it, and is often meant to wound (For example: “That’s a beautiful suit; too bad they didn’t have your size!”). Satire exposes or pokes fun at human weaknesses. But laughter costs too much when it is purchased at the expense of others. That at which you laugh tells more about you than you may realize.
Because it is a gift from God, humor should be kept wholesome and helpful. It should provide joy, not inflict injury. It can be distorted, and often is. When it causes someone to blush in embarrassment, or when it causes someone to suffer inner pain, it should not be used.
This does not mean that God wants us to be overly somber. In fact, He creates times for us to laugh: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven ... a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4). When it is time to laugh, let yourself go and give it your best shot. You will be surprised how much better your day will go.
In his earthly ministry Jesus made frequent use of humor to make a point and drive it home. He particularly used the technique called hyperbole, or extravagant exaggeration. He talked about moving mountains into the sea (Matthew 17:20) and camels (hide, hair, hump, hooves and all the rest) going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). He also said the Pharisees strained out gnats while they swallowed camels. Getting the hump to go down had to be the hardest part.
What will heaven be like? In its simplest, and perhaps its most profound, terms, heaven will be a place of perpetual joy. The Bible tells us that in heaven there will be no more mourning or crying (Revelation 21:4). Why is this true? The former things will have passed away.
Martin Luther, in one of his lighter moments, said that if people did not laugh in heaven, he did not want to go there. I think he nailed it, because I believe heaven will contain a surplus of laughter.
Jesus came to give joy to those who follow Him. God is not only our Creator and Redeemer, but He is also our Sustainer. Humor is just one of the many means He uses to sustain us over the course of our lives here on earth. Humor, then, is a foretaste of heaven — a snack to tide us over until we get there, an appetizer in anticipation of the main course to be shared later in the New Jerusalem.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” You don’t want your bones to dry up, do you? Smile! The world looks brighter from behind a smile.
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.