Laugh, and the Whole World Laughs With You!

Revd Chris Wood

I do like to engage with people in a way that generates laughter, believing that it's good for the soul. For example, on the operating theatre table, while being prepared to have a lump removed from my forehead, I was asked by the surgeon to frown (so she could mark the line of the cut). I insisted that, since a child it had been impressed on me that I should never ever frown and therefore hadn't got it in my nature. She replied: 'I've never come across a man yet that doesn't frown regularly - so frown!' We laughed and then I frowned.

Given that the family will inevitably seek to catch each other out on April Fool's Day, it got me thinking, is there humour in the Bible? Interestingly, the first question that popped up in the search engine was 'why is there no humour in the Bible?' Well, on the face of it, that might appear to be the case, but it's a misconception, as it's very much in evidence to the discerning reader. Let me offer a few examples:

There's that lovely scene in the Book of Genesis where Abraham and Sarah are informed that she will bear a son in their old age - despite the fact that both are considered to be 'worn out' physically and sexually. It was no wonder they laughed out loud at the prospect, and in its reading should bring a smile to our faces - as well as a warning that all things are possible with God! (Genesis 18: 10ff)

Or how about the Psalmist who had the ability to see God in every human experience and writes: 'People without mercy make plots against good people, and grind their teeth, but the Lord laughs and knows their time is coming soon' (37: 12 - 13). What a lovely image of God laughing out loud, reminding us that when we laugh, He laughs with us - and sometimes probably at us!

It's likely that we should laugh through the Book of Jonah, especially at Jonah's open disobedience in going west when he was being encouraged to go in the opposite direction. The idea of being incarcerated in a large fish for three days to ponder his misdemeanours only to be vomited out onto dry land to ensure he fulfilled God's purpose - and even then he does it reluctantly and then becomes horrified at his success. Surely it can only be read as a humorous story that makes a very serious point about God's generous love for all!

One commentator maintains that Jesus must have used humour given that He kept 5,000 men so enthralled all day long with His teachings that they forgot about eating and drinking. Jesus for instance used a humorous illustration of the impossibility of a camel getting through an eye of a needle to highlight the difficulty of the wealthy getting into the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 23), He also used the image of an aggrieved widow who makes a nuisance of herself by constantly bombarding an unjust judge with her demands until he finally gives in 'before he was worn out with her demands' (Luke 18: 1 - 7), using this to illustrate a good model for successful prayer and never losing heart! The audience must have roared with laughter at the image. And what about how ridiculous the tax collector Zacchaeus must have looked climbing a tree to see Jesus?

We can only chuckle at times when we read scripture as we reflect on the predicaments that the people of God got themselves into, and recognise ourselves in its pages. I understand that there are about 30 humorous incidents in the Gospels alone, so it would be interesting to know what you came up with, and why they make you smile. The important thing, though is to recognise that humour is a God-given gift, and we are being encouraged to immerse ourselves in its joy and laughter - sometimes to relieve the agony and sadness of human life and living.

So try to remember - especially on 'April Fool's Day' - that the writer of Ecclesiastes suggested that there was a time for everything under Heaven, including 'a time for weeping and a time for laughter'! (3: 4) and both are a necessary and essential ingredient in life. But a word of warning: be on your guard if you happen to be in my company on the morning of 1st April .....!

God Bless

Chris

April 2016