Tom Pittman's WebLog


2012 January 20 -- Godly Joking

I'm not much into "gift exchanging" -- which is a contradiction in terms: if you get value back, then it's barter, not a gift -- and most of my family and friends cater to my idiosyncracies, but December is the season, so I received a gift: one family at church seems to have adopted me as their patron guru, and they gave me a book by outdoors humorist Patrick McManus. It's so funny, I have to read it in small doses to keep various parts of my body from falling off and rolling on the floor laughing.

Then last Sunday, the fellow who writes the songs for our Scripture memorization, and who is himself something of a joker, handed me a CD titled "Ken Davis: Seriously Funny." God wants you to have fun, according to Davis, and the whole sermon (except for a tiny personal note at the end) was one joke after another, mostly poking fun at his wife and teen or pre-teen daughters, who are now grown up with their own children and not nearly so funny. Or maybe it's safe to joke about the past, and not the present. His jokes were funny, although not in the same league as McManus, but I felt badly for his wife and daughters. Maybe they put up with the abuse because it's his (and their) source of income.

Never once did Ken Davis cite a single Bible verse in support of his thesis. If God wants you and me to have fun, why can't I find any Bible verse saying so? Or at least giving an example of God or Jesus or one of the Prophets or Apostles having fun. OK, there are a couple:

Psalm 2:4 -- The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. [NIV]
At whom? "The kings of the earth [and] the rulers [who] gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One." God laughs at His enemies, not His family and friends. "Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath..." In 1Kings 18:27 the prophet Elijah taunts the (false) prophets of Ba'al and jokes about the impotence of their god. It's even funny. Again, it's the enemies of God who are the butt of his joking.

There is one other verse, Eph.5:4, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." Jesus promised his disciples trouble in this world [John 16:33] not fun.

So I have this problem. If joking and laughter are such a good thing, why is the Bible, which is arguably our source of all Truth and Wisdom and knowledge of Virtue -- at least I would argue as much -- why is the Bible so negative about it? Am I so "joyless" (as one of my critics accused me)? Or is laughter like alcohol and recreational drugs, which God made for the helpless and the hopeless, so they can "drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more."

It is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. [Prov.31:6,7]
We are kings and priests in God's economy, we don't need mind-bending drugs to smother despair.

I suspect that joking, like booze, does indeed "deprive all the oppressed of their rights." OK, the wicked deserve it, they chose to oppose the Creator and Ruler of the universe. But think about what makes a joke funny. There are two kinds of jokes, puns -- for which the proper response to a really good one is a groan -- and ridicule. Davis ridiculed his wife and daughters. McManus poked fun at his wife a few times, but mostly he ridiculed his own teenage blunders, and those of a few (obviously fictitious) accomplices like Retch Sweeney and Rancid Crabtree. Many of his jokes build an expectation of folly in another person, then it turns out to be McManus himself, before he gets to telling about the other person, which is sort of like the way a pun works.

Does anyone enjoy being the butt of somebody else's joke? I don't. We put up with it, especially if the joke is really funny, the way we put up with a hangover after a good drunk, but it's not fun. Alcoholics obviously are willing to accept the hangover, and drug addicts are willing to suffer the downer, or they wouldn't injest those substances in the first place, but we usually don't get the choice to be the butt of somebody's joke.

So I try not to tell jokes that ridicule other people. Well, I slipped up a few months ago. A 20-something young lady was telling about getting calls for some "Tim Turner" on her new cell phone, and then dreaming that he was actually me and that I was with the CIA. I couldn't resist: I disguised my voice and called her cell, "This is Tim Turner, do you have any messages for me?" If I'd been more skillful, I would have added that it was a matter of national security, and that I would be right over to make the arrest, and that she would recognize "my little blue car." But everybody had a good laugh anyway -- including Mary, after she recovered from the adrenaline rush. It was a good joke, but was it a Good thing to do? I don't know, at least not if Scripture is to be my guide.


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