The Christian Discipline of Humor


Not many would immediately think of humor as a discipline of the Christian life. The Christian disciplines traditionally involve disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, suffering, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, etc. But what about Christian humor which at times is responded to by and expressed in the laughter that rings out in the Christian home, church or school?

Martin Luther, the German theologian, preacher and Reformer, once said: “The gospel is nothing less than laughter and joy.” Which brings us to the necessity of defining terms. We are speaking here of Christian humor or gospel-shaped humor. The act of Christian humor is then directed down the channels of the Apostle Paul’s words in Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

While Sarah mocked God’s promise to Abraham of a son with laughter (Gen. 18:12), her son is named Isaac, which means ‘laughter’. An ironic twist on sinful laughter. While there is the laugh of unbelief, it is often turned over on its head into belief.

In the Book of Proverbs, the wise man exhorts those listening to have a merry heart, which is good medicine (Prov. 17:22). In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the wise man commends joy in the middle of the vapor of human existence (Ecc. 8:15). In Psalm 126, the fact that the Lord brings his people out of exile, brings joyful laughter to their mouths and shouts of joy to their tongues. Elijah uses irony when mocking the Baals (I K 18:27) and Isaiah uses it when mocking the making of idols (Isaiah 44:12-19). When looking upon the futile attempts of the nations to stop the advance of God’s redemption in history, Psalm 2:4 states that the Lord Himself sits in the heavens and laughs.

I could discuss examples of Christian humor in depth, but the point of this post is to address the fact that there is a Christian discipline of developing humor. It is also linked into the other Christian virtues. Humility means that I can laugh at myself. Love for my neighbor means that laughter should also be unselfish, it should also consider my neighbor and how he/she will respond positively or negatively to my laughter. At times, joy will express itself in laughter. Peace of soul will express itself in a Christian humor that is not consumed by anger and dissonance. Humor is shaped and molded by prayer and Scripture reading as we gain a view of the world and ourselves that is shaped by the clarity of the Scriptures.

The great theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, once wrote: “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.” A humor-filled view of the world that is shaped by Scripture, gets our minds off of ourselves. We become small while God becomes great. Through the pain and suffering of human existence, we see something of the sparkle and the crackle of the way that God intended things to be, and we see the kingdom of God break into the darkness of the world.

William Gurnall once wrote: “Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called ‘The rejoicing of hope.'” Hope inspires Christian laughter and humor in the middle of human suffering. Out of the fires of human suffering, we see the crackle and spark and the flashes of human joy, which remind us that we have been made for a better world.

Laughter is warfare. Christian humor is warfare. This is not hollow laughter, empty laughter, or wicked laughter. It is simply the deep belly-laugh of a Christian who is aware of the gospel and forgiveness and the love and kindness of the Father. It is a discipline which should be developed as the Christian comes to a greater awareness of how great God is and how small we are.

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