“You know, pastor, it would be better to cut off my right arm than fall prey to fortification. Fortification is ruining lives.”
I said, “I couldn’t agree more,” while wondering if was he talking about bread or fornication.
Sally Mae Wilkins* once left a gift from her nose on my hand after a Sabbath morning greeting; it was the only time I shook her hand in two years of weekly greetings. I deftly avoided hand contact by distracting her anyway I could: a pat on her shoulder, a comment about her lovely hair style, or a remark about her snazzy purse, anything but a handshake. She had been married at age eleven and proudly showed me the wedding photos (which I never handled).
Then there was Willard Thompson, my seasoned elder—when he taught the lesson he frequently, loudly passed gas and didn’t miss a beat as he made his point. I think he was hard of hearing in addition to other sensory malfunctions. Sometimes when confronted with a theological mind-twister, Willard, while scratching his head, would extend his false teeth and then suck them in quickly, repeatedly, as he grappled with divine mystery, all in front of the class eager for God’s truth.
I began to wonder: does God have a sense of humor? Humanity is fraught with the funny.
In 1972, I lived for a month in Times Square, N.Y., doing evangelism with Ron Halvorsen, an ex-1950’s gang member turned Seventh-day Adventist evangelist. One morning about 2 AM I witnessed two drunks, a Catholic and a Jew, argue if God could laugh. Teetering, bottle under his arm, the Catholic, pointing at his Jewish opponent, finally slurred, “Yes He can, because He created you!” The early morning street crowd erupted in laughter.
The Incarnation means God is present with us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Sadness, laughter—God is there. God came to where we are, and to who we are. God caught us unprepared, un-brushed, unwashed, disheveled, undone; yet God gladly showed up anyway, (John 1: 10-14). Jesus came from the heart of the Father (John 1: 18) to tell us He adores us and abides with us.
And Jesus landed here as a baby. Some could find this funny, God arriving as a ‘baby’ to save mankind. An army of mighty angels, the full force of heaven’s limitless power perhaps—that would make sense, but a baby? Yet He shows up in diapers to deliver us. Profound theology wrapped in humor. He deals with the gravity of the mission with absurdity, effective and potent; Immanuel—God with us.
Once while preaching my heart out, I read from Acts 15: 12-19 where the word “gentiles” appears four times. In my passion to reach the masses, I unfortunately read “gentiles” as “genitals.” My brain locked down, I continued to read “gentiles” as “genitals” (four times!) while my mind screamed at me to stop. You idiot; it is GENTILES, not genitals!
Too late, the damage was done. The crowd of salt-of-the-earth North Carolina folk began to squirm nervously in their seats; something was moving them and it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. I was never warned about this at seminary. Suddenly my head elder fell out of his metal folding chair and crashed to the floor guffawing. To recover, I gave a call to accept Jesus. My fortification friend marched to the front.
Does God laugh with us? I think so; I am created in God’s image.
My cat attacks the shoebox, way too small to contain her; nevertheless she fits herself into the wee space as if she was hiding, her eyes popping wide with glee at her loopy-ness. She even ambushes her own tail. What’s with that?
I am on a walk and two young deer chase one another over the woodsy slopes of a small knoll adjacent to the road. One hides behind a tree then leaps out at its white-tailed pursuer—Surprise! They leap with delight and joy. I wondered who placed that game in their furry genetics.
God is the originator of laughter and good times. When at a party and laughter gushes like geysers, God is there having the time of God’s life.
Humor sets us free from life’s trials and woes, grants us fresh air in a stuffy room of worry and sorrow. We would do well to laugh daily for “a joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).
*All names, with the exception of Ron Halvorsen and the author, have been changed.
Greg Prout is father of three, grandfather of two, and has been happily married for 30 years to Mary Ventresca. He was a pastor for 4 years, Bible teacher for 8, and realtor for 32. Greg describes his spiritual experience: “I trail after God incessantly for He/She is the most wonderful, fascinating, mysterious Being who has never failed me, loves me well, has unlimited patience and understanding, abundant grace, and loves the surprise.”