A question I asked for a long time is, “Does God laugh?”
He feels anger.
He feels compassion.
Does He laugh? I’m not talking about derisive laughter, which God is said to engage in.2 I’m talking about holding your belly, bending over, humored laughter. In other words, does God have a sense of humor?
“We’re made in the image of God, and we laugh, so He must too,” someone told me once. That made sense to me until I thought it through and realized there are many physical responses that we as humans use, but God does not. He doesn’t sleep, for instance.3
What we think of as humor is often triggered by surprise or a sense of the ridiculous. God may have a sense of the ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure you can’t surprise Him.
But there is another kind of laughter, triggered not so much by humor as by camaraderie. People are far more likely to laugh when they’re with a group of friends than when alone, and researchers have found that only 10–20% of what people laugh at can actually be classified as funny. In social settings, we laugh more often at mundane comments such as, “How have you been?” than we laugh at actual jokes.4 Laughter is our way of bonding and of showing enjoyment.
This was made real to me when I visited a reserve in northern Ontario and found that people laughed much longer and louder than I was used to, over things that didn’t seem funny to me at all. After a while, I realized the point of the laughter wasn’t the joke, but the joy they felt in being together. When I let go of the tightness in my soul and opened my mouth, it was easy for me to laugh, too. I can imagine laughing with Jesus someday in very much the same way.
Whatever we know and don’t know about God and laughter, we know that He created it for our enjoyment, and that all things He created are very good. So what are the benefits of laughter?
Laughter builds togetherness. At home, at school, at church, there are few communal activities so effective at building brotherhood as laughing together.
Laughter aids in creative thinking. Laughing and humor help people to think more broadly and to easily connect ideas and relationships, thus enabling problem solving. Researchers have found that, while most emotions are confined to specific areas of the brain, laughter is a complex response that triggers connections across the entire brain. 5
Laughter helps us deal with stress. Author Nik Ripken writes of two Chinese Christians who were jailed for their faith and endured humiliating and dehumanizing experiences at the hands of their jailers. What amazed him, in talking to them, was how they could laugh and joke about those memories. Laughter is both an aid in healing pain and a sign that we are dealing with it. Mr. Ripken states that while serving with other aid workers in a country facing incredible trauma, he observed that when someone lost their sense of humor, when they stopped laughing, it was time to send them back to their own country for a chance to regroup.6
Laughter aids the memory. In a study of people in their 60’s and 70’s, researchers found that laughter boosted delayed recall by as much as 43%.7 While researchers have not done this study on children or young adults, it’s likely they would be affected in a similar way. Having fun while you learn has long been known as an effective tool for retention.
Laughter—or rather the humor that underlies it—intrigues us and catches our interest. Who doesn’t read the comic part of a newspaper first, or flip through a Reader’s Digest to find the jokes? Because of its ability to captivate, humor is an excellent teaching tool.
Laughter boosts the immune system, relaxes the body, protects against heart attacks, and may lengthen life. 8 Doctor Madan Kataria of India believes so strongly in the physical and psychological benefits of laughter, he started clubs dedicated to what he calls “laughter yoga,” though no traditional yoga is practiced. Instead, participants engage in fake laughter exercises. Many times, the fake laughter escalates into real laughter. Participants report health benefits as diverse as asthma relief, the lessening of depression, and improvement in multiple sclerosis symptoms.9
Laughter helps us to respect authority. When the authorities in our lives have a sense of humor, when they know how to laugh with others, and most importantly, when they know how to laugh at themselves, we respect them for it. We enjoy being in their company and think of them not just as our authority, but as someone we like to spend time with.
Laughter can be understood in any language. It builds bridges between cultures and between individuals. For teachers, friendly laughter is a way to make children feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom.
Laughter is fun!
1 Zephaniah 3:17
4 Provine, Robert. Psychology Today. The Science of Laughter. Published 11/01/00, reviewed 06/09/16. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200011/the-science-laughter. Accessed 08/15/18.
5Ma, Moses. Psychology Today. The Power of Humor in Ideation and Creativity. Posted
06/17/14. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-tao-innovation/201406/the-power-humor-in-ideation-and-creativity Accessed 08/15/18.
6Ripken, Nik. The Insanity of God. B&H Books. January 2013.
7Toland, Sarah. Men’s Journal. How Laughter Improves Memory. https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/how-laughter-improves-memory-20140519/ Accessed 08/15/18.
8 Robinson, Lawrence; Smith, Melinda, M.A.; Segal, Jeanne, Ph.D. Helpguide.org: Trusted Guide to Mental and Emotional Health. Laughter Is the Best Medicine: The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter. Updated 03/18. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm Accessed 08/15/18.
9Khatchadourian, Raffi. The New Yorker. The Laughing Guru. Issued 08/30/10. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/30/the-laughing-guru Accessed 08/16/18.
CONTRIBUTOR: Lucinda J Miller