Sunday 20 January 2013

My God Laughs

Over the past few months I've found myself taking on a number of unfamiliar new roles: blogger, film critic and comedian. The latter can confuse people. How can a Christian do stand-up? Doesn't God disapprove of that sort of thing?

But one of the great joys for me about doing comedy is that it's both a profoundly Christian and a profoundly Biblical thing to do. If anything, it's us rather than the Bible who have the biggest difficulty with accepting that humour is wholesome. In their letter to the Phillipians, Paul and Timothy give the church this instruction: "Be full of joy in the Lord always. I will say again, be full of joy" (4:4). It's almost as if, even for its original audience, the command to be joyful can be easy to brush over and ignore. But it's deliberately restated. It's a message that we need to take on board. Following Jesus doesn't mean forsaking happiness for an existence of dour, lifeless self-sacrifice. Knowing God is actually the source of true joy and contentment. Let's be honest: some Christians haven't exactly been renowned for having a laugh. Some Christians have explicitly frowned upon any sort of humour whatsoever. But that sort of attitude tragically misrepresents the warmth and laughter of our God.

That's not to say that all humour is Godly. There are some things which just aren't funny, some times where it's genuinely inappropriate to laugh. I'm not advocating the taking-on of a guffawing persona with no sense of proportion - laughter no matter what. There are plenty of situations in life that require a response from us that's not laughter. And humour that exploits, humiliates or demeans others is, in my book, never healthy.

That said, I'm convinced that God Himself has a great sense of humour. Again, we're often the ones who reject this out of hand. For instance, in three stories told in response to those who criticised His radical acceptance of outsiders Jesus portrayed an exuberant, joy-filled, celebratory God. In each story, something of great value gets lost: a sheep, a coin, a son. After some sort of search the lost item/person is found. A huge party is thrown to celebrate. God? Partying? Well, yeah. Jeff Lucas writes about the partying God:
Risky though it might seem to some, God loves the imagery of a good party and consistently uses it in the inspired words of Scripture to point to his own nature and the reality that he calls his people to be a partying people...And God himself is not the wallflower, the stoic, unsmiling spectator or party pooper who sits every dance out because he is above that sort of thing. 
(Will Your Prodigal Come Home?, p152-153)
Jesus included parties in the stories to point to the truth that "In the same way, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner changes his heart and life" (Luke 15:10). Lucas notes that, although it's often been taken to mean that it's the angels who are showing the joy, in actual fact they're just witnesses. The image in my head is of a God celebrating so loudly and emphatically that even the angels are a bit taken aback.

Broken clocks. They're so rude. They won't even give you the time of day.

I don't know whether you find that funny or not - it doesn't really matter. But we all know that feeling of finding something really funny, whether it's online, in a comedy act or just in everyday life. Quite simply, I think God's behind that. I'm encouraged to be among Christian comedians like Tim Vine who believe the same sort of thing. Laughter's from God. It's his invention. Why would we think that God doesn't laugh with us? I don't think that it's an exaggeration to say that anything funny that I come up with is actually second-hand material from God. They're His jokes (thankfully, I don't think He'll be suing me any time soon). He's the source of laughter and joy.

We have permission to laugh in God's presence. I can't overstate that. The Christian life is one of joy, the living out of the celebratory heart of God. I often think that your average guy on the street thinks that a sense of humour is extracted from Christian kids at birth ("We won't be needing this,  thank you, doctor"). But my God laughs. And every 'ha-ha' joke points to the complete and abundant joy that's only found in knowing Him for yourself.

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