We publish a lot of Bible reference books for average people, students, scholars and pastors. As a consumer of Bible reference books, I find that I most often make use of them when I have to give a talk or a sermon. (Now that’s a felt need!) Apparently pastors feel the same way.
That was the case recently for Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He surveyed his congregation and tabulated the nine questions they would most like to ask him. He’s still working his way through the series, but last month he dealt with Question #8: “Why do you make jokes about mormon missionaries, homosexuals, trenchcoat wearers, single men, vegans, emo kids and then expect these groups to come to know God in the same sermon?”
You can see the whole thing in all its one-hour-and-ten-minute glory online here. After listening, you may or may not think he’s answered the question adequately, but what first caught my attention was that he openly acknowledges that he bases the bulk of the talk on a reference book. Primarily he focuses on the articles “Humor,” “Comedy as Plot Motif” and “Trickster” found in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (full disclosure: from IVP), quoting from the articles extensively.
So if the question is, “Does the Bible have any humor in it?” he certainly does an excellent job offering a yes. My blog on humor in public speaking generated some interesting discussion. Driscoll’s comments offer some helpful additions.
He begins making his case by quoting the following from “Comedy as Plot Motif”:
The overall plot of the Bible is a U-shaped comic plot. The action begins with a perfect world inhabited by perfect people. It descends into the misery of fallen history and ends with a new world of total happiness and the conquest of evil.
Driscoll also highlights examples of situational comedy (e.g., the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 27-29), scatological humor (e.g., Ezekiel 4:12), sarcasm (e.g., Job 38), name calling (e.g., Proverbs 6:6-9; 19:13). The coup de grâce for Driscoll’s (or any theological) argument is, of course, Jesus. He used humorous exaggeration (e.g., the log vs. the speck in the eye, the camel through the eye of the needle), ridicule (e.g., how religious people pray, fast and tithe) and some were offended (Matthew 15:12).
So why should we be humorous. Driscoll concludes by saying because:
* Jesus did it.
* Humor defeats religion.
* People take themselves too seriously, and God too lightly.
* Some things are a joke and if you treat them seriously it gives them credence you don’t want to give them.
* Just because they are laughing doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving (Proverbs 14:13).
* It makes us spiritually strong (Nehemiah 8:10).
* It heightens all our other passions.
* It is missiological (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Are there any limits then to humor? Driscoll says there are, such as:
* Don’t mock God.
* Don’t mock everyone.
* Don’t mock all the time.
* Keep looking for the line.
* Laugh at yourself.
* Know who to mock.
* Know when to mock.
In general, laughing at ourselves or helping someone laugh at themselves is actually doing them a spiritual service because it nurtures our humility and punctures our arrogance. At the same time it is not always appropriate. But those are exceptions to the rule: Be funny.