ESSAY
GOD’S SENSE OF HUMOR

Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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The attribute of God that is most forgotten and most relevant for today is God’s sense of humor. In the story of Creation the Book of Genesis quotes God as saying, “Let us make man in our own image.” And so He did. And He saw that it was good, very good. Since that time man has been making God in his own image. And that is not good at all. Most of these man-made images of God are caricatures

We often picture God as a serious old man, burdened with the incredible task of managing this vast, complex universe and providing adequately for all of His creatures, especially for the fickle, fallible, unpredictable human beings. But God is not old. Neither is He young. It is the passing of time that makes one young and then old. God exists outside of time. God exists in eternity, in an eternal now. And God is not serious, at least in the sense of being burdened with a task that is too big for Him. Is it more difficult to manage the universe than to create it out of nothing? And most of all God is not sad. God is perfectly and eternally happy, and enjoys a divine sense of humor. The sense of humor we have, if we have one, is but an imperfect participation in God‘s sense of humor.

A sense of humor, of course, is a sense of the humorous. So what is humorous? The humorous is that which is unexpected, incongruous and preposterous. At the circus, for example, it is the incongruity of the clown with the baggy pants, bulbous nose, long shoes, and painted face that is humorous. At the movies we laugh at the “Three Stooges” because they are always doing the unexpected, the incongruous and the preposterous.
A sense of humor then is simply a sense of truth, a sense of reality that enables us to discern the untrue, the unreal, the incongruous and the preposterous. God has a perfect sense of humor then because God is All-Truth and God is the “really real,” the source of all reality.

Creation is filled with the humor of God. Consider the giraffe, the kangaroo, the zebra, the ostrich, the hyena and the baboon. Could a serious, humorless old man even conceive of such creations? And what about us? Man has been called an “angelic animal.” What an unexpected, incongruous and preposterous combination! Angels are perfectly at home, wherever they are. Animals are perfectly at home in this world. But we are not. We are like displaced persons. We have not here a lasting city. And we do not have it all together. We are a bundle of contradictions. “The good we will we do not and the evil we will not that we do.” We are proud as devils and act like jackasses.

The Bible which contains God’s most intimate revelation of Himself also gives eloquent testimony to His sense of humor. From Genesis to Revelation God is constantly doing the unexpected, the incongruous, the preposterous, doing impossible things with the most unlikely people. The very first chapter of Genesis contains what is perhaps the greatest proof of the Divine sense of humor. “...male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Anyone who creates sex must have a great sense of humor. Nothing has made a bigger fool out of more people than sex.

Then there is Abraham and Sarah. Abraham, 99 years old, and his wife Sarah, 90 years old and barren, are promised that their descendents will be more numerous than the grains of sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. On hearing this Sarah laughs. And God must have been laughing with her, because she does conceive and bears a son, whom they name Isaac, which in Hebrew means laughter. Years later, Isaac’s younger son, Jacob, tricks his older brother Esau out of his birthright. Then Jacob‘s youngest and best loved son, Joseph, is sold into slavery by his brothers only to become the chief executive officer of Egypt. Then a mere youth, David, slays the giant Goliath with a slingshot.

But God‘s sense of humor reaches its climax in the New Testament. What is more unexpected, incongruous and preposterous than the Gospels? The King of Kings is born in a stable and dies as a criminal on a cross. The first are last and the last are first. Those who lose their lives find it. You add by subtracting and multiply by dividing. The foolish confound the wise and the weak conquer the strong. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone supporting all the rest.

The Bible seems to be telling us that the only reasonable response to God is faith and laughter. Believe and laugh. Yet I have seen many people read the Bible, very devoutly and prayerfully, but I have yet to see someone read the Bible and laugh. Or even smile.

God’s sense of humor is most obvious in theology. Theology speaks glibly and eloquently about God and then says that God is incomprehensible. I remember the theology class about the Trinity. We spent one hour a day, five days a week for one semester studying the Trinity only to learn at the end that if we understand it, we don’t understand it, because it is unintelligible.

There is tragedy, of course, in the Bible as well as in human life. Sometimes there is very great tragedy, as in the world today. But there is also God. God who loves us, as only He can, not for our possessions, not for our achievements, but for ourselves. For ourselves, not as we could be or should be, but as we really are with all the physical warts, psychological quirks and spiritual infidelities. And He loves us with a love we cannot merit or ever be worthy of. And in the unconditional love of a Father He can laugh at the human foibles of His children. And He can change human tragedy into divine comedy. All we can do is to believe and laugh. Laugh with God, our loving Father.



 










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