The Vernacular Curate has a great little article about his quite appropriate appreciation for humour. He points out how much Acts 20:9 makes him laugh. Quite right too. Jimmy Carr style humour, and what good it would have done for Carr to read that sort of passage… but the rest of the section is also worth noting. There is more here. Its about the flow of God‘s humour.
One way of doing jokes is by building tension in your audience, building it, sometimes slowly, deliberately, building, that, tension, and releasing it.
With a punch line. The tension can be build quickly, but need not be. The punchline needs to surprise. But I think God’s humour, while incorporating that sort of punch line, also gives us life giving room to breath after the line is delivered. That is why I think the verses in Acts following 9 belong to the joke, as seen from Gods perspective. The whole passage is as follows:
And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
The joke as it would be told by Carr is clear: St. Paul the abominable long winded preacher: look what you’ve done now. But for God the story does not end there. Much like other humourous sections of the Bible (they keep on appearing the more I read it), the more it seems that we find a justice and mercy narrative that is spiked with the delightful possibility that God is laughing at some of the absurdity of what goes on in his creation, through his creatures; even in death.
As friendly Quaerentia points out, in Colossians–in relation to what Gods victory looks like in comparison with the violent domination that earthly victors display–we find a wholly subversive form of victory, which I link to humour as well. The victory is one which rather delights at humility –not for the sake of humility– but for the sake of the right ordering of things. St. Paul’s description of how the victory of that justice and mercy narrative looks like in Colossians, we are met with a quite serious proposition about how God functions and what he has set out for us as Christ followers:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
So God makes a spectacle of the “powers and authorities” that would try and undermine him. But how does he do that? How does he make that spectacle? That act of humiliation, that thing, which makes others look on an laugh (as is Psalm 2)?
The beginning of the quoted passage hints at it but there, over there in the book of Romans, (and Mathew and 1 Peter, paraphrasing the Old Testament), right there, the most original form of Gods humour, appearing in Romans, and it’s not a coincidence, but its Gods act of humiliating, and making a spectacle out of the cruel work of the powers and authorities. Its there in Romans, and its done on purpose.
“Behold, I [God] am laying in Zion [where God reigns] a stone of stumbling… and a rock of offense”
But the verse continues… “and whoever believes in him [the stumbling block, the source of that humour] will not be put to shame.”
Him? That stumbling block, that Rock of Offense? Jesus, the one who rode into Jerusalem on an ass, and then died on the cross, and much like Eutychus, but quite differently, came back again. The flow of Gods laughter requires (because of his nature) the room to breath, after a death defying gag, has meant we are choking. Its always there, if only your willing to laugh. And laugh at yourself.