I read something recently that reduced me to a state of helpless laughter.
It was an article in the Church of England newspaper, “The Church Times,” and it was about a bishop of a bygone generation who had a wonderful if sometimes waspish sense of humor.
I found it to be absolutely hilarious – it took me several minutes to regain control of myself. If ever you have had “a fit of the giggles,” you will know what I’m talking about.
This experience made me do some thinking about laughter, which led me to ask: Is there a specifically Christian view of laughter?
Only indirectly is what I concluded. The Bible has very little to say about it – Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 is about the nearest we get: “There is a time for everything … a time to weep and a time to laugh.”
There are indications elsewhere that God delights to see his people laughing – have a look, for example, at Psalm 126:2 and Luke 6:21. But the laughter mentioned there is laughter from sheer happiness rather than at jokes or wisecracks.
There’s not much at all about what we call “a sense of humor.” Still, these verses do remind us that God loves to see his people happy.
Lacking much to go on in the Bible, I’ve been doing a bit of rummaging around in Christian history to see if some of the church’s wise heads have much to offer. And I have been impressed by the things they have to say.
Here is Martin Luther, short and to the point: “If you’re not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” I suspect, mind you, that that isn’t one of his more deeply thought-out theological utterances.
Here is Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan pastor and scholar: “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the Godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers.”
And here is somebody called Sydney Harris: “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed man with the incalculable gift of laughter.”
And somebody called Grant Lee: “Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship. When people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupil, worker and foreman. They have become a single group of human beings, enjoying their existence.”
I think that’s worth a second read: “Laughter is a great leveler, ironing out the inequalities and breaking down the barriers between people.”
Of course, it isn’t only Christians who have good things to say. Here is the Jew, Philo, who lived around the time of Jesus: “God is the creator of laughter that is good.”
That last bit is important, of course – sadly, this world is not short of ugly, nasty, spiteful, vulgar laughter, and as Christians we should not be guilty of it.
And here are a couple of proverbs: “He is not laughed at that laughs at himself first.” I like that! How good are you at laughing at yourself and your own quirks, idiosyncrasies and ridiculousnesses? Do you take yourself too seriously? Those of us who do would be wise to lighten up.
And from Spain: “One who is always laughing is a fool, and one who never laughs is a knave.”
Well, perhaps that word “knave” is a bit harsh; some people are naturally humorless without being bad people. But certainly there is something a little disturbing about people who can’t laugh.
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister living in Nottingham, England. He is also a freelance journalist who has written for several United Kingdom papers and various Christian publications. A version of this article first appeared in The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, sedgonline.wordpress.com.