Jesus and Laughter

By Wayne Jackson

If it were not so pathetic, it really would be laughable. I mean, the lengths to which atheists go in their decrepit efforts to discredit the Bible. Here is a recent example.

A.J. Mattill Jr. is a contributing editor to The American Rationalist, a skeptical journal published out of St. Louis. In the March/April issue, Mr. Mattill has a piece titled, “The Greatest Sin Of All.” He begins by quoting (with approval) German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (who was probably the leading philosophical influence behind Adolf Hitler).

Nietzsche criticized Jesus in the following fashion:

What has been hitherto the greatest sin here on earth? Was it not the word of him who said, “Woe to them who laugh.”? (Luke 6:25).

Mattill then goes on with a boring tirade about how depressing the example and teaching of Christ is. Let me make several observations.

First, the Son of God did not come to earth to “party.” He came to seek and save sinners (Luke 19:10). That mission was a tremendously heavy burden to bear, particularly in view of the horrible destiny that awaits those reckless fools who say, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). What a hideous disposition it reveals to criticize the Lord for his heaviness in contemplating this awesome responsibility.

Secondly, it is not true that Christ was wholly void of any sense of humor. Since he possessed a normal human temperament, he certainly had moments of joy. For instance the Lord was invited to, and attended, the wedding feast at Cana (John 2); folks hardly invite a guest who brings nothing but gloom to the occasion.

Elton Trueblood wrote a book titled, The Humor of Christ, in which he cited numerous examples of mirth in Jesus’ teaching—though, admittedly, such was somewhat subdued. When the Lord highlighted the Pharisees’ inconsistency by figuratively suggesting that they strain out a tiny gnat from their water—to avoid an unclean insect, yet gulp down an entire camel (a very large unclean beast)—(Matthew 23:24), he must have had the disciples in stitches.

Third, one must take into consideration the fact that the New Testament is quite selective in the material it includes. Its message is redemptive—not social and not entertaining. In fact, that very selectivity is a wonderfully powerful argument for its supernatural character.

If mere humans, without divine guidance, had composed that ancient narrative, surely it would have included the very type of anecdotal material about which the critics seem so concerned.

Judith Hayes, another atheist, once criticized the brevity of the Gospel accounts because they do not mention anything about Jesus going to the bathroom! Is that sick or what? I once read a biography on George Washington. There was nothing in the book about whether he snored or not—or if he ever made a single trip to the restroom!

Fourth, Mattill woefully and deliberately ignored the context of the passage which was the target of his criticism. Why did he cite Luke 6:25, but neglect to mention verse 21b? “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.” The critic was certainly selective in his citations.

The truth is, Christ was dealing with spiritual matters in this context. Those who were willing to “weep” over their sins and, in contrition, seek Heaven’s pardon (in the divinely prescribed fashion), would discover great joy—joy that would burst forth in laughter.

On the other hand, those who pursue life frivolously—flaunting their evil and shunning the will of God—will see the day eventually when their laughter will be turned into mourning. How could anyone miss this? The Lord was not condemning all laughter, and it evinces a truly blighted heart to so contend.

Finally, who is Nietzsche—or Mr. Mattill for that matter—to characterize anything as “sin”? As Jean Paul Sartre, an atheistic French philosopher, once observed: “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist” (Marsak 1961, 485).

If there is no God, hence no standard by which an action can be judged as either “right” or “wrong”—as these skeptics contend—how could Jesus have committed the “greatest sin”—or indeed any sin at all?!

But then, the infidel feels no compulsion to be consistent.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Marsak, Leonard, ed. 1961. French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre. New York, NY: Meridian Books.
  • Trueblood, Elton. 1964. The Humor of Christ. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.