God's Wonderful Sense Of Humor

An angel on his/her cell phone on one of the flying buttresses of St John's Cathedral, Den Bosch, Netherlands.
An angel on his/her cell phone on one of the flying buttresses of St John's Cathedral, Den Bosch, Netherlands.

Last week at Pub Theology we touched on a bit of doctrine that I really like. It's about God's wonderful sense of humor. We came on it via the topic of fish, which is not coincidental – one of our regulars is in a doctoral program in fisheries and wildlife, while another particularly enjoys catching fish and eating them. In fact the day before we were treated on a very large and very tasty pike, the very same fish that according to legend once instructed the future King Arthur about Might and Right. Similarly, fish can help us understand what God's sense of humor is like.

For the sake of drama we do well to imagine a really large fish. Think for example of a 50-foot whale spouting a big fountain of water in the air – the kind of unique sight you'd travel to California to witness. But then the same whale also turns into the sea monster Leviathan that "God has created to play with", according to the tragic book of Job (40:29), and/or regurgitates the prophet Jonah, who has just finished his psalm of praise in the whale's belly. Both tragic stories like Job's, and funny but serious stories like Jonah, give us an idea of God's sense of humor.

An aspect of this new doctrine that I find particularly amusing is that lots of people can agree on it. Even though they may have overlooked it until now, Jews and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics can all find it in their scriptures. It's almost staring them in the face. After all, humor by definition means the ability to perceive, and express, the comical or unexpected. The Word of God is full of the comical and the unexpected. My wife, who often makes me laugh, mentioned the story of King Saul hunting for David in the mountains of Judea. Saul then goes into a cave ­to relieve himself – exactly the cave where David is hiding. What is the point of this smelly episode? Read the story for yourself, if you want to know.

A more tragic fact about this doctrine is that lots of people do not believe in it. They may be unaware of it, since all they've ever learned about the Bible or the Quran focused on abstract or depressing bits of doctrine. Even more worryingly, some Christians and other religious folks display a level of humorlessness in their daily behavior and attitudes that suggests they urgently need a conversion experience. Didn't Jesus have a thing to say about watching the way people live their lives? For others, their all-too-secular worldview dogmatically prevents them from understanding anything about God at all. It would be comical if it weren't so tragic.

It is not hard to believe in God's sense of humor, or at least to begin believing. All one needs is a particularly odd bit of creation. Wild animals are great, but pets are good too, and most of the time, humans will also work. For me personally, it's hard not to think of my wife when I think of God's sense of humor. To be sure, there's tragedy here as well ­– to be intimately part of anyone else's life also opens one's eyes to the real tragedies ­that are there – but it's the kind of tragedy that calls on you to love that other person all the more.

God's sense of humor is where we can find God as a humane and approachable God, one who is aware of our daily ups and downs. It is like a very colorful and very big tent, set up close to us, where we can laugh, get together as real people and see a little bit of God's splendor ­– almost like the circus we would go to every year with our mom or dad when we were little, but one that is close by, always available and always new. We'd come out refreshed and see the world around us with different eyes.

To end on a more down to earth note: what God's sense of humor means to me is that it shows how things can be different. Lots of things can be different, and different for the better: our lives, our jobs, our churches, our universities, and even the politics of this country. It is a thoroughly hopeful perspective, that I wish on everyone. Who'd want for a different one?

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