A laughing matter

A funny thing happened on the sixth day of creation.

“God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27).

The author of Genesis says nothing about God giving them a sense of humor, but then the story leaves out a lot of details.

Still ...

It seems that after the Fall, God let Adam and Eve exit the Garden of Eden with more than just the leaves on their ... nether parts. It appears he let them keep a sense — his sense — of humor, too.

Clearly, it’s a part of who we are, one that separates us from the other animals he made. And of all creatures, we were the only ones fashioned in his image.

It’s been said that dolphins “laugh” and monkeys “play,” but there’s never been a scientific report of an animal — except humans — telling a joke or recalling something that happened last week and cracking up.

Humor is ours alone. Yes, since Adam and Eve, we were all born with original sin (except for Jesus and Mary, of course), but we were also born with the amazing gift of humor.

Let’s stop here for a moment and admit: It’s always unwise, and sometimes downright stupid, to declare “this is what God is like.” Who can know the mind of God (Rom 11:34)? Not us. What we can know is that anything good within us comes from him. After all, he’s not just some “inventor” of love, he is love (1 Jn 4:8).

So, how can we better appreciate his sense of humor? Two suggestions:

1. Look at what God did, and how he did it

Both Scripture and Tradition have examples of God making little or no sense when he chooses someone for a gigantic task.

Who should lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt? Who should confront Pharaoh and warn him of the consequences if he doesn’t let his people go?

Moses. Moses? That startled man doesn’t answer “Are you kidding me!” but does come up with a series of a logical and sound arguments for why he’s not the right guy. His final one: “If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4:10).

Then there’s the great King David. God’s choice is Jesse’s baby boy, a teenager out in the boonies watching his father’s flock.

And Peter, the “Rock.” The Rock? After Jesus was arrested, didn’t he collapse like a metal folding chair in a parish hall?

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And Paul, trusted by very few early Church members and rightly so. God wants Paul to be his great missionary to the gentiles?

From those apostolic times right down to our own, God has continued to choose someone who seems completely inappropriate for a task that seems completely impossible — if not downright crazy. Mother Teresa comes to mind. (Leave your religious order, go out on the streets of Kolkata and serve there. Oh, and begin a new worldwide order serving the poorest of the poor.) Mother Angelica can be mentioned here as well. (Cloister? No problem. Found a global Catholic media empire in an Alabama garage? And what the heck, become a TV star, too.)

2. Notice how holiness and happiness areintertwined

In the words of St. Teresa of Ávila, “God spare us from gloomy saints.” To be holy as our heavenly Father is holy (1 Pt 1:16) includes being happy as he’s happy. Why? Because he gives us, as the angel Gabriel foretold, glad tidings of great joy (Lk 2:10).

What’s God’s message to us? I love you; I take delight in you; you’re a hoot. (Well, obviously, there’s some paraphrasing here, but you get the point.)

To be truly happy — to experience a grace-filled joy — takes holiness. The closer we grow to God, the more joyful we become. (Yes, he created joy, too. He made all the virtues and planted a desire for them in our hearts.) In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

What are two ways we increase in holiness and happiness?

First, we realize that like the people mentioned above, God chooses us to do some ridiculous, impossible things for which — it seems to us — we have little or no reason to be that choice.

And second, in a leap of faith (kicking and screaming as we anticipate our long, swift fall and the thud of a landing), we begin. To use St. Francis of Assisi’s words, we start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly we’re doing the impossible.

“What’s necessary,” you ask? Sometimes that means taking a baby step just to get God off our backs. “All right, all right, I’ll try it. But there’s no way this is ever going to ...”

There is a way, of course. The One who is also the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).

As we answer God’s invitation to do whatever it was he was calling us to do, our joy deepens, and we just have to laugh. (Ask just about any priest why God chose him for ordination, and he’ll shake his head in amazement and amusement.) The deeper the joy, the closer to God. The better appreciation of the divine “silliness” of our playful God, and far more gratitude for it.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton:

“Laughter and love are everywhere. The cathedrals, built in the ages that loved God, are full of blasphemous grotesques. The mother laughs continually at the child, the lover laughs continually at the lover, the wife at the husband, the friend at the friend.

“Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness.”

Nothing is more important than God. And, it seems safe to speculate, none of us is as funny as he is.

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

Humor in the Family
Humor has the ability to unite families. Shutterstock
Since, as Scripture tells us, we were created in God’s image and God is love, no wonder laughter is a central part of the language of love. No wonder shared humor — from private jokes to favorite reminiscences — is a central part of intimacy.