On the Church and Society
May 24, 2006
When was the last time you laughed so hard that your eyes watered and your back actually hurt? That happened to me recently while attending a comedy show starring Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood.
Mochrie and Sherwood were two of the regulars on the improvisational comedy "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" that aired on ABC television from 1998 to 2004, with reruns now on ABC Family. "Whose Line" certainly is not fare for the entire family, but it's brilliant and ranks among my all-time funniest television shows. Mochrie and Sherwood offered an uproarious two-hour stage version.
After enjoying the improv antics, I started to reflect a bit about laughter, its effect, and what it means in relation to God. Why is it that a good chunk of the world views Christians as party poopers?
Part of the answer might be that the party has gone too far, and Christians live within certain moral bounds. On the other hand, though, some Christians do have rather humorless outlooks.
It is amazing how my occasional troubles are forgotten while laughing during "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Laughter lifts burdens. Writing a few years ago in Touchstone magazine about a period of chronic pain in his life, Leon Podles noted that his wife tried some Katherine Hepburn screwball comedies. Podles observed that "the brain cannot laugh and feel pain at the same time." It is noted in Proverbs 17:22: "A joyful heart is good medicine ... "
Indeed, Holy Scripture does have some things to say about humor and laughter and it is a balanced take overall that does not send us off into ggrim severity on the one hand, nor mindless hilarity on the other. In Luke 6, Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh," and then a bit later, "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." In Ecclesiastes 3:4, we are reminded that there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh."
Born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age, Isaac's name means "he will laugh." After giving birth, Sarah said: "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me." (Genesis 21:6) And in Job 8:21, we read: "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter ... "
A friend recently pointed out the humor exhibited by the blind man cured by Jesus in John 9. Knowing that the Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus, when asked a second time by them about Jesus curing his blindness on the Sabbath, he wryly replied: "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Do you also want to become his disciples?" Apparently, the Pharisees did not appreciate the joke, as John writes that "they reviled him."
Some leading Christians over the centuries also commented on laughter. Martin Luther simply declared: "If you're not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there."
Writing in "The Magician's Nephew," one of the novels in "The Chronicles of Narnia," after giving certain creatures the power to speak, C.S. Lewis had Aslan declaring: "Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech." That's good advice for those Christians who err on the side of being too somber.
Finally, twentieth century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr struck an appropriate balance. As quoted in a Touchstone piece by Steven Faulkner, Niebuhr stated: "Laughter must be heard in the outer courts of religion, and the echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary; but there is no laughter in the holy of holies. There laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humour is fulfilled by faith."
In the end, most Christians I know, with a few exceptions, love a good laugh. In fact, they rank among the most joyful people around. That makes sense since they should understand both the sometimes-amusing weaknesses of human nature and the ultimate joy offered through Jesus Christ.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.
Copyright © Raymond J. Keating