A Sense of Humor—God’s Gift
By “Awake!” correspondent in South Africa
SAM was late for work again. His employer had recently given him a final warning about that, so this time Sam was really worried. He imagined his boss rehearsing a dismissal speech.
And he was! On Sam’s arrival at the office, 35 minutes late, the boss approached him with a threatening look on his face.
Sam thought quickly. He grinned, extended his hand and said: ‘How do you do. I’m Sam Maynard. I’m applying for the job that presumably became vacant 35 minutes ago. Does the early bird get the worm?’ His workmates roared with laughter. His boss, unable to hold back a smile, returned to his office. Sam’s sense of humor had saved the day.
There is no doubt that a good sense of humor often can “defuse” a tense situation. Humor can even help one to cope with adversity. A sense of humor enables people to laugh and relax and therefore can benefit their health. In his book Laughter and Health, Dr. James J. Walsh explained that the up-and-down movement of the diaphragm in laughter affects internal organs in a manner similar to exercise. Laughter has a good effect on the heart, liver and intestines. It aids digestion and the elimination of wastes.
What Is Humor?
Humor is said to be the ability to see the funny or amusing side of things. It is also said to be that quality that appeals to one’s sense of the ludicrous or absurd.
A humorous situation occurs when something is out of place or not appropriate. For example, a dignified London businessman, complete with furled umbrella and newspaper, wading in the sea, would be incongruous, odd, and would cause many a smile among onlookers. As another example, if a cat or a dog entered a school classroom, it would provoke many laughs, because such an animal usually has no place in a classroom.
Situation humor can be based on an unexpected happening. For instance, if a man tipped his hat to a woman and a pigeon flew out from beneath it, observers would laugh at such an unexpected occurrence. A report from Nigeria says that Africans there are very spontaneous in their appreciation of the unexpected. Thus, they usually laugh when a man slips on a banana peel. But they also go to his assistance immediately with sympathy and concern.
Most humor is expressed in words. And humor based on words comes in great variety, depending on nationality, social customs, environment and other factors. Some types are more intellectual or subtle, some are slapstick, or more crude and boisterous, some are more barbed or cutting (in English often called “wit”).
Also, what is funny to the people of one nation can be meaningless to another. For example, a white missionary was addressing an African audience and had occasion to add what he thought was a touch of humor. Dead silence. Later on he made reference to a monkey. His interpreter did not bother to translate the word, but merely lifted his arm and scratched his armpit. What a roar of appreciation!
Just where did humor originate?
Does God Have a Sense of Humor?
The Bible tells us that the Creator is a “happy God,” and that he made man ‘according to his likeness.’ (1 Tim. 1:11; Gen. 1:26) The ability to be happy, to have fun, to enjoy a sense of humor, innate to all races of men, must logically have come from the Creator.
Many animals perform humorous antics. Who can refrain from smiling at a kitten chasing a ball of wool? Who can help but laugh at puppies playing together, the mischievous pranks of monkeys, or the comical expressions of parrots? Jehovah has made certain animals very amusing to us humans, and this provides an unending source of happiness and fun. A sense of humor is clearly God’s gift.
Though the various forms of verbal humor are not limited to any one country or nationality, many people are more or less noted for certain types. Americans are said to be fond of hyperbole, an intentional exaggeration for emphasis or humorous effect. “It’s raining cats and dogs,” is an example. Also, “I nearly died laughing.” “I tried a thousand times.” Such statements, of course, are not literally true and this is usually understood by the listener.
The British are noted for dry humor, that is, when the speaker says something funny in a casual way and with a straight face. The British are fond also of the understatement. In this regard, the book Humour in Memoriam by George Mikes says: “Understatement is not simply a manner of making jokes; in England it is also a way of life. Other people use understatement too—the English do not own the copyright. A cartoon in the New Yorker showed two men on the flying trapeze and one has just missed the other’s hand, ninety feet up in the air. The man who made the somewhat absentminded mistake said: ‘Ooop, sorry.’ Surely, an understatement and an American understatement at that. But in other countries understatement is casual, incidental; in England it flows from the national character; it is in the air. It is, more often than not, not even meant as a joke.”
As an example of understatement, George Mikes relates the following: He says that a steamer was crossing the English Channel. “Only another man and myself were on deck and a violent storm was raging. A tremendous gale was lashing mountainous seas. We huddled there for a while, without uttering one single word. Suddenly a fearful gust blew the other chap overboard. His head emerged just once from the water below me. He looked at me calmly and remarked somewhat casually: ‘Rather windy, isn’t it?’”
The Irish brand of humor has its own appeal. Stephen Leacock gives an example in his book Humour: “An order has been made that ‘the last carriage shall not be attached to railway trains, as it is always subject to unpleasant shocks and oscillation.’” Also: “Don’t come down the ladder, Pat, because I have taken it away.”
The same writer gives the following example of Scottish humor, which, reputedly, is sometimes grim: “A Scotchman’s wife was taken ill and, seemingly, died. At her funeral as the coffin was being carried through the churchyard gate, the pall-bearers accidentally bumped it against a gatepost. The shock resuscitated the woman. She was taken from the coffin and survived for many years. Then she was taken ill, and, this time, really died. At the funeral, as the coffin approached the churchyard gates, the bereaved husband said to the pall-bearers, ‘Steady, lads, steady; dinna bump her.’”
Spanish humor often illustrates the propensity for self-depreciation. A cartoon in the magazine El Triunfo shows two men conversing. One says: “Culture is now the fashion. We have a Ministry of Education . . . a Ministry of Culture . . . and a Cultural Adviser to the President.” The other replies: “Excellent! Now all we need are schools.” To laugh at one’s own weaknesses is an important aspect of humor.
Since Germans love to eat, jokes about this go over well. For example, a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany illustrated the need to partake regularly of spiritual food by our need to partake regularly of literal food. “Many of us eat three times a day,” he said. “Of course, there are some who eat once a day—from morning to evening.” The German audiences all responded with a big laugh, but when the same illustration was told at an assembly of another language group, it fell completely flat.
Big words are the joy of the Nigerian, especially when using Pidgin English. A speaker is certain to gain an enthusiastic response if his speech is laced with nice, long words. Among the Yorubas, quarrels are sometimes won or lost depending on which of the combatants can exhaust the opponent’s ability to use big words.
Humor and False Religion
Humor can be very effective in showing up the foolishness of false religion, its hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness. The Bible itself uses this type of humor in some places. For example: The prophet Isaiah describes how a woodcutter chops down a laurel tree, uses part of the wood to make a fire by which he cooks his food and warms himself, “but the remainder of it he actually makes into a god itself, into his carved image. He prostrates himself to it and bows down and prays to it and says: ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’”—Isa. 44:14-17; compare Jeremiah 10:2-5.
In Mexico religious topics do not escape the Mexicans’ lively sense of fun. They have a story very similar to the above illustration of Isaiah. When a person refuses to be impressed by someone whose humble origin is known, he might say: “How could I worship him as Christ, if I knew him as a guava tree?” The story behind this is that a certain priest asked a local rich man for some wood to make an image of Christ. The priest was given a piece of guava tree and the image was made. But later, during Mass, the priest noticed the rich man smiling at the image. When Mass was over, the priest rebuked the rich man, saying that this was not the way to worship, and he got the reply: “How could I adore him as Christ, when I knew him as a guava tree?”
Beware of Abusing God’s Gift
Jokes about sex are very common in many parts of the world. However, God’s Word, the Bible, condemns “obscene jesting,” so those who wish to live by its high standards avoid them. (Eph. 5:4) Such jokes are a form of mental filth quite out of place in a Christian society.
Jokes and funny stories that are clean and wholesome are fine at the right time and place and provide fun and enjoyment—we all need to relax at times. But they are often grossly overdone. Some persons have a long repertoire of funny stories and spend much time telling them. The Bible warns against this too. Although wise King Solomon did say at Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh,” yet in Ec chapter two, verse two, he writes: “I said to laughter: ‘Insanity!’” What did he mean? Solomon could speak of laughter as “insanity,” for thoughtless laughter beclouds sound judgment. It may cause a person to take very serious matters lightly and thereby offend or irritate others. So a sense of humor is a gift that can be abused like many other wonderful gifts from Jehovah.
Concerning foolish laughter, Ecclesiastes 7:6 says: “As the sound of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the stupid one.” Thorns are not the best of fuel, since they flare up quickly, crackle noisily, but often fail to cook what is in the pot. Their showy, noisy crackling thus proves useless. So are the frivolous gigglings of the fool. Foolish, uproarious laughter and ill-timed attempts at humor can be irritating and harmful.
As we ponder over the multiple manifestations of humor, we can conclude that it is a delightful gift from our bountiful heavenly Father. Nevertheless, it must be used in moderation and in accord with sound judgment. When this is done, a sense of humor can add zest and sparkle to our daily lives.