Monthly Archives: January 2011


Laughter is truly a universal language. To be sure, different people find humor in different situations. Not everyone will find a specific joke funny. But laughter itself is universal. Children born on different continents in to very different cultures nevertheless will cackle with almost indistinguishable laughter as they interact with the world and people around them. The innocence of their laughter is a delight to any observer.

Unfortunately, the purity of children’s laughter too quickly descends into mocking, scornful, derisive laughter at the expense of other people. Many of the references to laughter in the Bible focus on this kind of laughing. The foes of David and of Israel laugh at their misfortunes, defeats in battle, and at their lack of a visible deity to protect his peculiar people. Crowds laugh at Jesus for what they see as his ridiculous insistence that a synagogue leader’s daughter is not dead, but that he will give her back to her parents alive. (See Luke 8:50-55.) Other crowds laugh at Jesus and spit at him at his crucifixion. See Mark 10:34.) The portraits of such laughter reveal its ugly side.

But the Bible presents laughter as one of God’s good gifts and even as a character trait of God himself. English renderings of the name of Isaac, one of the fathers of the faith of Israel, miss the essential onomatopoeia of his name. Hebrew pronounces his name in 3 syllables – Is-a-ac – capturing the sound of laughter. Sarah, naming the child born to her at the age of 90, explains, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” (Genesis 21:6 GWT) Naming the child Isaac is God’s own practical joke, because God gave the name that means “laughter” to the one delivered to Sarah at a seemingly absurd age, but was the one through whom God would deliver his blessing to all people. (See Genesis 17:19.) God loves laughter. God, himself, laughs at the absurdity of people trying to live without him and to do things their own way. (See Psalm 2:4.)

Wholesome laughter is a sign of people experiencing God’s blessings. The prophet Jeremiah delivered God’s message of salvation, restoration, and blessing when he would return his people to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile: “This is what the LORD says: . Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more {11} the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!'” (Jeremiah 33:10-11 NLT) The fulfilled promise was celebrated in a joyous psalm brimming with laughter: “When the LORD brought the prisoners back to Jerusalem, it seemed as if we were dreaming. {2} Then we were filled with laughter, and we sang happy songs. Then the other nations said, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ {3} The LORD has done great things for us, and we are very glad.” (Psalm 126:1-3 NCV) Clearly, God intends for his people to enjoy his good gifts and to laugh, dance, and sing in response to his love and grace.

Laughter gets a bad rap for being only irreverent. Some comedy, of course, is banal, sophomoric, and downright ungodly. But that is a misuse of God’s good gift. Positive opportunities to laugh can be powerful reminders of God’s joyful nature. I was amused at the curious coincidence of two Baptist churches in our city bringing 2 nationally known Christian comedians to their churches during a 5-day period this February. The appearances are open to the congregations and to the community. Holy hilarity is promised by both events. Additionally, several Face Book friends who have no connection with one another and who live in far flung cities each posted a link to the same female comedian’s video. Maybe good humor is on the upswing for people of faith.

Wouldn’t that be a blessing? Far too often the assumption of people outside the faith community is that believers are dour, long-faced, and humorless. We need to recover the godly wisdom that should have guided us all along: “A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength.” (Proverbs 17:22 NCV) The principles were strikingly proved by Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Evening Post, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the 1970s. With his doctors’ collaboration, he checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel, where he watched old comedy TV shows, movies, and routines – and laughed and laughed. Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient (1980), chronicles the freedom from pain given by the laughter and his return to full capacity for life 2 years after being pronounced as all but dead. Laughter has been recognized by the medical community as a healing agent with demonstrable physiological benefits. The Danish philosopher and devout Christian Soren Kierkegaard (a brilliantly dry humorist in most of his expansive writings) chided the “stupidly serious” for their humorless pretensions of profundity. Life is full of oddities, reversals, situations, and jokes that are just funny. God laughs, gives us laughter as a gift and a blessing, and we can use a good laugh in appreciation of all the good gifts God has given us.

Sometimes humor can offer insights we might miss otherwise. Elton Trueblood was reading Matthew 7:3-5 with his family when his 5 year-old son broke out laughing. The boy thought that Jesus’ story about someone having a wooden plank sticking out of his eye and trying to pick dust out of his friend’s eye was hilarious. Trueblood recognized that Jesus most likely intended for the story to elicit laughter in order to drive his point home. His classic book The Humor of Christ was his attempt to recover the poignant joy in Jesus’ use of humor.

I resisted the temptation to include a joke or a link to a comedy routine online in this devotional. However, I would welcome your sharing your favorites with me! Humor that does not take advantage of others or does not demean them can be a source of great joy. Different people find humor in different places, but I would enjoy sharing in future editions some of the best laughs you might send.

I hope some holy hilarity sweeps you into deep, convulsive laughter today. Look for it! When it happens, give God thanks for all his good gifts – and for laughing with you.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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