Is it wrong to laugh?
Our entire planet has had such a week of despair that cracking jokes can seem to be in poor taste. As if saying something funny or raising a smile would be THE WORST possible thing you could do right now.
With terrorism and warfare covering the world in heartbreak, one bizarre remark made this week by US President Barack Obama raises the serious issue of whether it’s wrong to laugh.
At the annual APEC summit, President Obama asked Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about his upcoming meetings. Mr Turnbull mentioned New Zealand counterpart John Key and President Obama said: “”So you actually, er, you actually talk to the New Zealanders?” Click here to see this captured on camera and try to work out if the President was joking.
Whether he was or he wasn’t, Mr Turnbull doesn’t laugh. He responded seriously about how great Mr Key is, leading to the American leader doing the same thing.
The first time I saw the President’s bizarre remark, I was sure he was making a deadpan joke in the setting of super-serious discussions. Like a comedian making a deliberately absurd statement with a straight face. You know, for effect. I imagined him being disappointed that Mr Turnbull didn’t LOL.
Once I stopped chuckling, I panicked. Oh no, I thought, how could I be laughing at a time like this?
Especially as I’m a Christian, is it wrong to be having a laugh when terrorists are blowing up buses, concerts, villages or too many other targets?
You’ve got to be joking
Being a Christian is not the first thing associated with laughing. Unless we are talking about how plenty of people make fun of Christians or Jesus. Sometimes they do this because Christians can seem to be only about serious stuff. No time for silliness or satire or slapstick when you are a stuffy, straightlaced Christian.
Frankly, that’s a joke.
Christians can laugh. Christians should laugh. Laughter is a part of God’s own character (Psalm 2, 59) and humans have been made in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). And as the wise words of Ecclesiastes so neatly explain, there is a time to cry AND a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
So the issue, then, isn’t whether it’s right or wrong to laugh. There’s definitely a right time to laugh. And even though there are terrible, terrible, terrible things happening all around us, all the time, having a laugh doesn’t have to be uncaring or malicious. It can just be the chance to enjoy the better things in life, rather than only dwell on the negative or depressing things.
But knowing there is time for busting a gut or splitting sides doesn’t help me to know what is right or wrong for me to laugh about.
Not a laughing matter
The hardest thing about Christianity and laughter is letting God and Jesus guide my sense of humour.
I’m a big fan of sarcasm. I also love comedy movies and TV where people make fun of others in witty ways. But as I laugh at clever insults or put-downs, I can be struck by what I’m actually laughing about. I’m not laughing at something uplifting or harmless. I’m laughing at the way another person can be mocked or ridiculed.
One of the many helpful instructions in the New Testament’s letter to the Ephesians collides with my sense of humour. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (4:29)
Think about that in relation to what you or I find amusing. Are we Christians AND laughing at things that are not helpful for building others up? Oh, and what about the jokes that we are making, to make other people laugh? Are we Christians AND letting “unwholesome talk” (you know, stuff we say that is full of crude, vulgar, rude or other things we know God objects to) come out of our mouths? Just so we can get a laugh.
Whether President Obama was just having a playful go at Australia and New Zealand this week isn’t really the issue when it comes to sense of humour.
Whether it is right or wrong for me to laugh at anything needs to get back to what I’m laughing at. And the impact of that. On me AND everyone around me.
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