What do you think is funny? Do you like slapstick? Sarcasm? Puns, limericks and other wordplay? Humor plays an important role in human relationships—but how can we use humor to improve our Christian lives?
No matter what we human beings find amusing, our "sense of humor" can be used for good or evil as much as any other faculty of the human mind. The worst part is that all too quickly, we can be blindsided by the evil side of humor—and the better-developed our "sense of humor" is, the more easily we may be blindsided. We need to ask ourselves why this is so.
We humans can take humor one step further and joke about the ultimate questions of existence. If there is a God who cares for and rules over men, though, then joking about Him is dangerous ground to walk on. But surely it is amusing to those with eyes to see how foolish man can be in his devotion to false gods and false concepts. In the Bible, Elijah (1 Kings 18:27), Isaiah (Isaiah 44:10–20), Wisdom personified (Proverbs 1:24–27), Paul (2 Corinthians 11:1, 16–18, 21, 23), and even God Himself (Psalm 2:4), all employ different "senses of humor" to challenge false gods and false concepts on their own grounds.
God's servants could do this because our "sense of humor" is rooted in a major "defense mechanism" of the human mind. We can use humor rightly to laugh at our own foibles, and we can use it as a way of defending God's truth. The problem comes when we use humor to mock or scorn other human beings, human authorities that God has ordained, or worst of all, God Himself, His law, His grace, and His promises. The Bible has a long list of warnings and examples against "mocking" and "scorning."
How then do we get drawn into mockery, or even into accepting the mockery of others without protest? The answer is simple. We let ourselves be conformed to the world, rather than choosing to be transformed by God's Spirit through the renewing of our minds so that we may prove what God's perfect will is (Romans 12:2). And we can become conformed to the world so quickly and so unawares through our sense of humor!
Paul wrote to Christians: "[Let there be] neither filthiness [among you], nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks" (Ephesians 5:4). The Greek word behind "coarse jesting" is interesting. Aristotle, in his Politics, used it to describe what we might call "college-freshman humor": as clever and skeptical as it was coarse. It denigrated its targets—it did not build them up. Does this sound familiar? It should. Such humor fills the speech, the "sitcoms" and the movies of our modern world—to say nothing of social media on the Internet!
We can think we have come so far in our Christian growth, only to be caught off guard by this world's "coarse jesting." When we are, it opens doors to "the world, the flesh and the Devil" that we should not allow to be opened in our minds. It does not matter if we do this unknowingly. The effects on our minds and relationships are exactly the same!
So where is our "sense of humor" directed? Do we use it to help us see how deceitful our own minds are (Jeremiah 17:9), to defend the truth with wisdom, or to dishonor others made in God's image?