Every speechwriter knows, and every speaker should, that there is only one safe form of humor in public speech, and that’s the humor of self-deprecation, when you encourage the audience to join you in laughing at yourself. Humor is something that speakers have to be extraordinarily careful with, especially in these days of hypersensitivity to insult, even when it’s meant to be funny.
In the Bible, too, laughter is serious business.
In the Old Testament, laughter largely (but not entirely) has a negative connotation. Think of Sarah laughing to hear that she will get pregnant in her old age; hers was the laughter of the scoffer. In the New Testament, there are exactly two references to laughter, both in close proximity to each other in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is pronouncing the blessings and the woes, and he says “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (v.21). And then he says “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (v. 25).
That’s all there is for laughter. And in the context of blessings and woes, laughter is a serious subject.
So, did Jesus laugh?
The short answer is, we can’t say for certain. There’s no reference, direct or implied.
But one way to understand what he says in those two verses is to ask another question: why do people laugh? Here’s a not-inclusive list:
We laugh because we’re nervous, embarrassed or feeling awkward.
We laugh because we’re happy or joyful for ourselves, families, friends or even acquaintances.
We laugh because someone has tickled us, literally or figuratively.
And we laugh because we think something is funny. This is where we enter the minefield. We laugh to express disbelief or incredulity; to mock or scoff; to ridicule; to amuse ourselves at someone else’s expense; to show how hip or cool we are. All of these “funny” motives actually demonstrate our superiority in some fashion.
If there was anyone who could have laughed to demonstrate his superiority, it was Jesus. But then, he wouldn’t have been Jesus. He would have been exactly like us. He was perfectly human like we were meant to be. And while I have no proof for it whatsoever, I could easily see Jesus laughing for joy, like at a wedding, or when he marveled at the faith of a centurion. We do know that he wept.
The context of the passages in Luke tells us that he was speaking to a large group of people on a mountainside, but that he was directing his words to his disciples (all of them, not just the 12).
That is, he was speaking to us. And there’s nothing funny about what he said.
May all of our laughter be for joy.
To read more posts on laughter, visit the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Bridget Chumbley.