‘Humor’ is not a word that is usually associated with Christianity. ‘Traditional’, ‘serious’, ‘somber’, ‘joyful’, ‘intellectual’, ‘religious’, ‘conservative’ and so on: all of these words and more, whether accurate or not, have been used by both Christians and non-Christians as descriptions of the Faith. But you rarely find anybody labeling Christianity as a faith of ‘humor’ or of ‘laughter’. Such words do not appear to be an accurate depiction of the typical Christian and the faith they live. Many non-Christians think Christianity is all about strictly following a set of rules and trying to convert others. And many Christians do in fact live this way, focusing so much on obedience to the rules and the learning of said rules.
As important as such things are, of course, it is a profound mistake to live one’s faith with only these aspects in mind. Christians must have humor in order to be Christians; they must be able to laugh, not with mockery or with insults, but with joy and pleasure in the life that they live, because more than anything else our faith is a faith of joy. The primary reason we should want to spend eternity with God is out of love and joy for Him, as it is the primary reason He wants us to join Him in eternity: out of love and joy for us, His adopted children.
Though in a given moment it may be necessary to be serious or angry or upset, it is impossible to live a Christ-like life being only or primarily those things; one must live a life that exudes the joy that they are given by God. And though in a given moment you can be joyous without being humorous, it is impossible to live life filled with God’s abundant joy and love and yet not at any point feel the need to spread that joy with laughter; laughter is one of the most common languages of joy.
Remember what our faith in Christ entails: that He (among other things) became incarnate, took on flesh and dwelt among us. As Catholic author Frank Sheed once wrote, this explains why we see in Scripture “God obeying His mother, God paying taxes, God receiving hospitality, God receiving insults, God tormented by hunger and thirst, God loving, God angry” and God experiencing many other ordinary experiences. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that God experienced some moments of laughter and humor as well.
It is understandable to have difficulty picturing this, for it is all too easy for us to focus on Jesus’ miracles and divinity. It is even easier to forget, however, that He was also performing a miracle by both truly being God and at the same time truly being Man, and thus experiencing those ordinary aspects of life that being Man encompasses. And if we are made in His image and likeness then it follows that we should do those same ordinary things for heavenly purposes, including laughing and being joyful.
We can understand better the necessity of humor in our Christian walk by looking toward Sacred Scripture. Though much of the content within the Bible needs to be taken seriously, there are a surprising number of stories within Scripture that are really funny.
The book of Jonah, for example, is probably the most hilarious book in the Bible. It starts with God calling Jonah to the city of Nineveh, which was east of Israel, to preach against them because of how wicked they have become. Now if you know the Bible, you might at this point expect Jonah to accept God’s call despite the dangers involved, such as Noah did in building the Ark in Genesis 8, or St. Paul did immediately after his conversion in Acts 9. Or perhaps he would protest with God at first but soon succumb to the will of God, just as Moses did in Exodus 3 and Jeremiah did in Jeremiah 1. Though these men may have had weaknesses and doubts about their own ability to do God’s will, they all quickly recognized that it is ultimately best to do as He says. So it seems that that would be the same path that Jonah will follow.
…Except NOPE! Jonah immediately set sail for Tarshish, the exact opposite direction of where Nineveh is, because of how afraid he was. And God responded in kind by making sure Jonah gets thrown off the ship and swallowed by a whale.
While still inside the whale Jonah realizes the wrongness of his actions and repents, to which God reacts by making the fish vomit him up (because what other way can a fish expel him? (don’t think too hard about that answer)).
After eventually arriving in Nineveh, he fulfills God’s will for him. He begins preaching throughout the city that Nineveh will be destroyed unless they turn from their wicked ways. Now again, if you know Scripture, you might expect at this point that Jonah will be at best ignored, such as the Israelites had done to God’s commands throughout the book of Judges, and at worst persecuted by the townsfolk, such as St. Stephen in Acts 7. This explains Jonah’s initial ‘hesitancy’ in following God’s call. It did not look like it would be a good ending for him or for the city of Nineveh.
…Except NOPE AGAIN! Jonah had not even been preaching one day when everyone in Nineveh, including the king himself, repented of their sins. Jonah, probablym with his jaw dropped, became angry, knowing that the Israelites never responded to his preaching in this way, and reacted by storming out of the city, building a hut and waiting in the hope of still seeing the city burn. It does not happen, and the book ends with Jonah being scolded by God for his misplaced temper tantrum.
The way in which this book is written is the perfect example of how we as Christians are called to live our lives. Are there moments and themes throughout the book that need to be taken seriously? Absolutely. The necessity of following the will of God, the possibility of forgiveness of sins for all people, the typology of Christ (i.e. Jonah spending three days inside the whale), all of these are necessary takeaways from this book and cannot be glossed over or taken haphazardly. On the other hand, the Jews in Old Testament times would have caught the humor in this immediately. Though it has important messages for the reader to adhere to it is portrayed in a way that is gloriously funny, making it relatable and enjoyable.
So it is with us. We must take seriously all the claims that our faith makes. We must obey all commandments, follow God’s Will in all things, and take seriously our mission to bring others and ourselves, by the Grace of God, to Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. But we must also do so with a smile, laughing in the joy and love provided to us by that very same Lord and Savior.