As a young teen, my go-to choice of humour was sarcasm. Following advice from one of my brothers (who follows this blog, hi!) I tried to kick the habit, but picked it up again when I started attending a high school where we actively cultivated it (we impressionable students were under the influence of a couple of teachers in the English department who had sarcasm and irony down pat). Sarcasm and I parted ways in recent years, and I always thought that it was because my brand of humour didn’t translate well into another language and culture. I may have missed the real driving-force behind the change:
One of the ways you can tell a person doesn’t get the gospel—they’re very religious, really know their Bible, big into doctrine—they don’t have a good sense of humour. Well, some years ago somebody said, “The way I can tell a Pharisee is this: they go around looking at people saying, ‘That’s not funny.’”
There’s another kind of humour, I would call it the relativist humour, which is very cynical, very sceptical, very bitter but also sometimes very cutting towards people they don’t like, which shows that in the end everybody’s self-righteous, even the so-called open-minded people. They say, “Oh, I’m open-mined. I hate bigots, I hate self-righteous people. I can’t stand them. I feel much superior to them. I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”
And so the gospel takes that all away because the gospel makes you able to laugh at yourself, and it’s the only kind of humour that’s funny. It’s the only kind of humour that’s healing. And you can laugh at yourself without cutting. There are people who make fun of themselves and you can tell that they’re bitter, they’re upset, and they’re kind of into self-loathing. That’s not the gospel, of course.
As you know the gospel makes you not think too much of yourself or too little of yourself, it just makes you think of yourself less. Often because you’re full. You’re not worried, you’re not having to steal self-acceptance from what everybody else says, and as a result, what? Well, it means you poke fun at yourself but not in a way that you’re really trying to bring your own self down and you’re funny. You’re finally funny. Tweet that. I dare you.
–Tim Keller, in a talk titled The Gospel-Shaped Life. (The above is an edited transcript of a sub-point of one his four points.)
A somewhat related post: Did Jesus laugh?
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