“If only we could put him on mute in real life,” a weary dad quipped in my small group, whose 18-month-old could be heard shouting constantly and for no clear reason from his highchair in the background of our Zoom call.
It’s a joke that wouldn’t have worked a few months ago, but life in lockdown has given us a brand-new vocabulary for our humor. For every frightening news piece on social media, there are several more pieces of content intended to make us smile—whether it’s photos of people getting dressed up in ballgowns to take out the trash, or videos of sports announcers commenting on everyday life.
While we miss the physical presence of our friends, we continue to express our affection using the unofficial sixth love language: memes. As grace abounds between us, so do GIFs.
While we miss the physical presence of our friends, we continue to express our affection using the unofficial sixth love language: memes.
Of course, we may ask ourselves: Is it right to laugh when people are sick and dying, or grieving, or facing financial ruin? Certainly, something has gone seriously wrong with our sense of humor if we’re attempting to rejoice with those who mourn, rather than mourning with them (Rom. 12:15). There’s a “time to weep” as well as a “time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4). So too James calls us to change our laughter to mourning as we repent of our sin (James 4:9). Some things are serious. Not everything is funny.
But lots of things are.
When times are hard, many humans instinctively turn to humor. And Christians don’t need to feel guilty about joining in on the fun. How we use humor will vary depending on our character, culture, and personality. And while we should be aware of elevating humor to a virtue—as though funniness were next to godliness—it can be a good (and biblical) way to help yourself and others survive a crisis.
Consider three reasons believers can gladly enjoy humor in the midst of a pandemic.
1. Laughter Is Good for Us
Numerous studies have shown how laughter is good for our physical and mental well-being. It’s been found to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even boost the immune system.
This should come as no surprise, since the science merely backs up what Scripture revealed centuries before: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). A good laugh can’t cure every illness, but it sure can make us feel better.
And, in God’s kindness, this medicine is as available in bad times as well as in good. Proverbs 15:15 begins, “All the days of the oppressed are wretched . . .” But rather than go on to set up a contrast with the mirth of the wealthy, the second half of the verse delivers a twist: “but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” The realities of this pandemic are certainly wretched—but cheerful hearts can still find things to enjoy.
A good laugh can’t cure every illness, but it sure can make us feel better.
Scripture is never simplistic about our emotions, though. Perhaps you know from bittersweet experience that “even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief” (Prov. 14:13). The Bible doesn’t condemn those who are finding life hard, even as it invites us to laughter.
2. Laughter Reveals Our Confidence
Christians can keep our sense of humor—even in the midst of uncertainty—because we can keep our confidence. The wife in Proverbs 31 “laughs at the time to come” (v. 25). She’s not afraid of the future, because she fears the sovereign Lord—and that confidence reveals itself in a lightness of spirit.
The Bible doesn’t condemn those who are finding life hard, even as it invites us to laughter.
Of course, this confidence is much easier to talk about than to feel. On those occasions when we’re gripped by worry, we can use humor to help one another cut our fears down to size. When concerns have ballooned in our mind, a well-placed joke from a friend can be like a pin in its side. It won’t make our problems go away, but it may make a little more room for hope to swell.
Neither “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35). And as “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2)—finding our confidence in our eternal future—our reasons to smile grow brighter.
3. Laughter Encourages Humility
Some of the funniest people I know are those for whom the jokes come from godly humility. They’re quick to laugh at the expense of themselves (and freely invite you to join in), yet are slow to laugh at the expense of others. That’s the godly way to be funny; their humor reveals their humility.
And let’s face it: we’ve all been humbled recently. This pandemic forces our culture to come to grips with the reality of our mortality. So it’s interesting to note that when the Preacher of Ecclesiastes reflected on mankind’s bleak “common destiny” (9:1–6), his immediate application was: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart. . . . Enjoy life” (9:7–9).
Or in the words of a friend of mine over the weekend: “I’m just trying to make the best of it and enjoy the little things.”
The next time something on social media makes you smile, you can enjoy it. You can like that it proves right the wisdom of God’s Word. You can like it because you are confident in God’s power. And you can like that humor is his common-grace gift to humanity.
The world is not as it should be, but neither is it as bad as it could be—not even now. And so we laugh.