This site uses cookies to provide you with more responsive and personalized service and to collect certain information about your use of the site.  You can change your cookie settings through your browser.  If you continue without changing your settings, you agree to our use of cookies.  See our Privacy Policy for more information.

God’s Laughter | Theology Matters

  • March 2010 Issue
Practical Theology

Does God have a sense of humor? Those who like to laugh find it difficult to picture God without one. But this may be due as much to the high esteem we have for this personality trait as it is to anything the Bible has to say. Because we consider a sense of humor to be a virtue in others, we feel certain that God must possess one as well.

God’s sense of humor is implicit rather than explicit in the Scriptures. Some passages suggest that God has a sharp sense of irony, like description of the man who plants two trees and then uses one to make a fire and fashions the other into a god (Isa. 44:14–17). In a moment of biting sarcasm, the Lord declared, “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more” (Amos 4:4). The God who speaks in Scripture is a God who laughs. But more often than not God’s laughter is a reflection of His scorn. He scoffs at the rulers who reject His authority and at the contempt of the nations (Ps. 2:4; 59:6–8). For the psalmist, God’s laughter is no joke but a signal of impending doom (Ps. 37:13).

If God does have a sense of humor, we would expect to see it expressed in the ministry of Christ. We know that Jesus felt the full range of human emotions. He wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:35). He was angry (Mark 3:5). Jesus felt overwhelming sorrow in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:38). Yet there is no recorded instance of His laughter in the Gospels. How do we explain this omission? Perhaps it was due to the nature of Christ’s earthly ministry. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be a man of sorrows. One who was familiar with suffering and who would bear the grief of His people (Isa. 53:3–4).

Nevertheless, many scholars do see evidence of a wry sense of humor in Jesus’ parables, often reflected in surprising plot twists, unlikely heroes, and hyperbolic statements. The unjust judge, who cares as little about God’s opinion as he does about man’s, is brought to his knees by a helpless widow because she keeps coming back (Luke 18:5). The steward with the most conservative fiscal strategy is the one who is rebuked (Matt. 25:24–28). Fredrick Buechner describes these parables as “high and holy jokes” about man, God, and the gospel.

So why doesn’t Jesus laugh in the Gospels? Perhaps it is because the time for laughter is still to come. The Man of Sorrows who was sent to bind up the broken–hearted will come again, this time with the oil of joy instead of mourning (Isa. 61:1–3). Then Jesus will have the last laugh.

For Further Reading
To learn more, read The Humor of Christ by Elton Trueblood (Harper and Row).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

Find Practical Theology by Month