The following is excerpted from the “Fruits of the Gospel” chapter in Mockingbird’s Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners and Saints, available on Amazon or through our own store, here

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If the Gospel is ever experienced for the ridiculous good news that it is, then laughter is soon to follow it. And this is mostly because humor is, in part, an expression of relief. Steve Brown describes it perfectly in his story about a woman who, after years of hiding a moment of infidelity from her husband, suddenly feels the (spontaneous!) need to admit it to him. Though nervous, she decides to do it.

“I saw her the next day, and she looked fifteen years younger. ‘What happened?’ I asked. ‘When I told him,’ she exclaimed, ‘he replied that he had known about the incident for twenty years and was just waiting for me to tell him so he could tell me how much he loved me!’ And then she started to laugh. ‘He forgave me twenty years ago, and I’ve been needlessly carrying all this guilt for all these years!’ Perhaps you are like this woman who had been forgiven and didn’t know it.”[1]

Her laughter is the laughter of the forgiven. It stems from a simultaneous flood of relief (“He forgave me twenty years ago!”) and a corresponding lack of self-seriousness (“How ridiculous that I carried this around for so long?”). A sense of humor comes from the ridiculousness of your happy outcome, and the fact that it had nothing to do with you.

Humor and hyperbole are, then, delicate ministers of God’s good relief. In various ways, either through satire or self-deprecation, humor is a way of uncoupling the truth from its sting. It is a way of including oneself on the wrong side of the righteousness equation. It is a delightful willingness to be wrong, because you can afford to be. It also allows us the privilege of disarming the stings against us, to find humor in things around us that might have offended or wounded us before.

Humor can also be used as a form of gracious misdirection. It is a chance for the forgiven to put on a clown suit in love, for the sake of deflecting another’s judgment. This is precisely what Christ does for the woman caught in adultery, lining out a distracting drawing in the sand for her team of accusers (Jn 8:6). If we are so lucky, we experience the same willingness to play the fool, to feel the great pricelessness of God’s wonderful gift, and thus to ham it up at no cost to anyone.

In the realm of the Law, we must keep face. In the realm of the Gospel, we can laugh at our own faces in the mirror. In the realm of the Law, we must tediously craft emails with the right balance of seriousness and brevity. In the realm of the Gospel, we’re free to say precisely the ridiculous thing that comes to mind, without fear of what brand of trouble our words may bring. While the Law incites us to point our fingers at others in blame, the Gospel provokes us to return the pointing finger back to our chest, and shrug our shoulders, and laugh at the absurdity.[2]

[1] “The Laughter of God,” When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough (Keylife, 2014).

[2] Surely humor is part of what is meant by the meaning of pure love “casting out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). When we are out of the realm of fear, we are into the realm where self-ridicule is easy.

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