Now, here’s a thing… what is it that makes you laugh the most? Or rather, what sort of thing makes you laugh? One of the things that I share in common with my 10-year old grandson is that we both love the Far Side cartoons of Gary Larson. Sadly, Mr Larson retired a few years ago but we have a number of ‘Far Side’ galleries that are compilations of his best efforts and you can also get a ‘Far Side’ page-a- day tear-off calendar. Don’t look on the internet for any of these cartoons because Mr Larson guards them jealously and anyone who posts one of them quickly gets a letter from his lawyer (Note to self – do a future article on jealousy and why ‘God is a jealous God’!)
We find Larson’s cartoons really funny. They often feature stone-age people, dinosaurs, dogs cats, cows and an assortment of mad scientists. In fact the tail spikes of a stegosaurian dinosaur are officially called ‘Thagomizers’ after being described as such in a Larson cartoon in 1982 – as the stone age lecturer says, ‘the Thagomizer, named after the late Thag Simmons’.
The truth is that not everyone finds them funny – some people just seem to not ‘get them’ at all, so whilst we are rolling about on the floor laughing they are looking on a bit stony-faced (thinking about it, that itself could be the subject of a Larson cartoon!)
It seems that we in the UK like to laugh and smile more than most, or at least more than the Germans. Bill Bryson, the American writer who now lives in Britain recounts in one of his books the story of spending two or three hours in a railway compartment with two German businessmen who chatted amiably the whole journey without ever breaking into a smile or a chuckle. He describes it impossible to imagine two British people doing the same.
All of which is by way of saying that I have been thinking about laughter and humour and where we stand on it as Christians. Along with the debate about how many angels can fit on a pinhead the past has seen some fierce debates about whether or not Jesus ever laughed or smiled as there is no reference to this in the Bible. To which I say, ‘Oh come on, of course he did’.
What about the image of the camel passing through the eye of the needle, surely that had to be said with a smile. Or the tale of the widow and the unjust judge? Also, didn’t children find him immensely attractive and crowd round him? Thy wouldn’t do that if he was grim and unsmiling.
Paul in Galatians uses some pretty earthy humour when talking about the Judaisers who are seeking to deny the Gospel. Paul’s comment was made because he was making a point, albeit quite a grim one. Yet he also writes to the Ephesians (5.4) ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.’
His stricture in Ephesians should not be taken as meaning we should never smile or find something funny or indeed try to make other people laugh. What we choose to laugh at or find humour is in partly culturally-determined but some things do fall outside the bounds of what we should find funny or seek out. Some modern professional comedians seem to rely entirely upon crudity to make people laugh. Sadly some who don’t need to do that occasionally resort to it also.
What you find funny and what I find funny may sometimes be different but I would venture to suggest that as Christians we should both find that some things should not be encouraged and laughed at, even if we do find them funny (Laughing whilst disapproving is an uncomfortable position to be in, I know).
A word of warning to finish – a neighbour of ours was an evacuee during the war and placed with a very strict staunchly Christian family, she was told by the man in the family that he would never smile at her because she had been bad. She remembered that all her life