Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Humor and Holiness

"God really must have a sense of humor." We've all heard this said, usually when something ironic or surprising happens in people's circumstances. It's like the spiritual version of "Ain't that a kick in the head?" I know it's just something people say, but this little platitude has always seemed a little unsettling to me--it's almost like it implies that God likes to play tricks on us as His version of humor. I hope not. We'd all better watch our backs if that's the case. I have often wondered, though, what God's sense of humor actually is like. Yes, I believe God has a sense of humor (that doesn't only involve pranking us). I can't imagine that any gift that brings humans so much pleasure couldn't have started with God. But I also wonder what God thinks of our humor sometimes. By "sometimes" I mean when it's not overtly holy and clean, like a popsicle stick joke. In this age when anything goes, I'm asking where, as Christians, our humor boundary lines should be drawn, especially humor that pertains to spirituality.

The main reason I'm asking these questions is a Facebook debate I played a very small (but evidently very controversial) role in recently. A Christian friend on Facebook posted an image comparing Christianity to atheism. The point, apparently, was to use an ironic, outrageous form of "humor" to show how much faith both belief systems require. Atheism was described as the belief that things happen for no reason with no cause and the universe came out of nowhere. Christianity was described as believing in a "cosmic Jewish zombie" one must "telepathically" accept in order to be saved because "a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree." Of the thirty-some comments, mine was the only one that took issue with a Christian putting such a comparison on display. My citing of Romans 14:16 ("Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil") was condemned as un-contextual and my offense dismissed as "faux."

So I'm going to use my own blog to do a little ranting and raving. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm not looking for a fight. I'm looking for truth (spoken in love…please be merciful!)

When did Christians become comfortable with humor that mocks or derides our faith--or even our Savior? When did humor become a value that trumps reverence, even for followers of Christ? It seems to me that our culture has fed us the lie that if it's funny, it's okay--and we've bought it hook, line, and sinker. I'm not talking about poking fun at our own silliness as Christians. Blogs like "Stuff Christians Like" can shine a needed spotlight on the ways Christian culture sometimes has nothing to do with Christ. I'm talking about treating our faith, on which we base our lives, with derision, or mocking our God, who paid the price for our souls with His own blood. There is a line between acute insight and mere ridicule.

So which is the higher value, holiness or humor? I don't believe we have to choose with exclusivity. I'm all for humor, and not just the creepy Veggie Tales/church stand-up comedian humor universe (in fact, I think I'll pass, thanks). But when these two heavyweights meet in a dark alley, which do we let win the fight?

I think my humor rule of thumb is two-fold: 1. If that Little Voice in my soul gives me any pause, it's probably off limits, and 2. It's a question of character. I am not okay with poking fun at the character of my faith, my church, or my God.

So with that off my chest….the Pope and Billy Graham arrive at the Pearly Gates…


  1. I say, "Bravo!" and commend you for standing up. Anything that mocks or derides Christ puts us squarely alongside the Roman soldiers before his death. I'm sure you could find more verses that discuss the consequences of going down that path. I think there ARE some things that are sacred, and we need to be careful when/how we decide that something has moved out of that realm.
    As another related thought, I'm trying to think if there is anything that takes precedence over personal holiness? I'd say all the behaviors that we should display in our lives fall under that category. I'd certainly rather be described as "holy" instead of "funny" when I get to heaven. :)

  2. Thanks, Brittany! I agree--in the last account, I'd rather be holy than funny. And I think it puts people on really dangerous ground to use humor that mocks the faith, Scripture, or even God. I just keep thinking about all the times people thought they could get away with mocking God in the Bible...they didn't fare very well. But I think in our culture, the allure is that funny is so much cooler than holy.

  3. As the person who did such posting, I can tell you that you've made a very large assumption here: that my intentions were to be humorous. Did you ignore my comments to you (both here and on FB?)

    The point was to facilitate conversation among a larger audience, and it did!

    You must think very little of me, that you assumed I was going for a laugh. I'm truly saddened by this. Sad that my character did not precede my post, and force you to opt for a deeper look into my intent.

    But even after I stated my intent, you still think I choose humor over holy? Or maybe you missed my comments...

    Please - I'm looking for good conversation (still). If you prefer not to have this conversation, I understand. But know that I'm not looking to divide or be confrontational, but to dig deeper on these issues.

  4. Hey Jacob,

    The whole discussion on your FB page really just set the ball in motion for me with thinking about humor and holiness. This was certainly not meant to be a personal attack. I realize your intent with posting that image was not merely to be funny. As I said here, I know it was "to show how much faith both belief systems require." But regardless of your intent in posting it, its content was meant by its author(s) to be humorous, wouldn't you say? And by re-posting it, despite it being to facilitate discussion, my feeling was that it did so in a way that derided Christ because of the content of the descriptions. So even if you're not trying to "choose humor over holy," and your intent was more about the good conversation, is it good conversation at the cost of respect for Christ? My feeling is that if we as Christians see anything that mocks our faith, our Savior, etc., we would do best not to put it on display to the general public for any reason. (Hence the Romans 14 citation.)

    A final note--I was going to email you about my posting this here to get your thoughts on it but then promptly left for vacation before getting around to doing so. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I know your heart is to seek truth, even on the thorniest path. But as your sister in Christ, I really took issue with the means you used to do so on this one occasion.

  5. Great thoughts Sarah - and thank you for the clarification. I appreciate your position, truly. I can certainly see how it crosses a line to you, and I'm sure to others. More-so I thank you for being willing to engage in a discussion that you found largely offensive.

    I did mean to offend, at least in part, in order that Christians may be exposed to things that they would never expose themselves to. Break out of their bubbles, so to speak. Very much like a Jew being exposed to the idea of unclean food. Therefore -

    Should we not all be aware of what is being said of Christ, and of Christianity, however offensive? Is the fear that we may be viewed by God to be disrespecting Him, that He or others may misunderstand our motives for inspecting these things? No doubt God sees these things, but He desires us to be shielded from them, or to ignore them? You see where I'm going...thoughts?