“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” — Teilhard de Chardin
I am currently in the second week of my online Ignatian Retreat. Each morning before I begin my prayer, I ask God for a grace. Yesterday, I was feeling particularly stressed due to work and home and I asked for the grace of joy. I was blessed as I had a wonderful day full of joy, peace and laughter. During my evening Examen, I could recognize the presence of God during many of my interactions.
It also got me thinking about the upcoming season of Advent, the Incarnation and the characteristics of God. Specifically, why authentic joy and peace are hallmarks of a healthy spirituality. The answer is that is the way God intended for us to be.
I was reminded of the most recent blogpost by Author, Professor and Catholic Deacon David Backes who was reflecting on the anniversary of the death of their long-time family dog. Naturally, this brought up feelings of sadness. David compensated by watching Gilligan’s Island and found that humor helped lift his spirits. He subsequently became involved in a Facebook conversation in which one of the posters said that “it was wrong to post such an image or to promote the belief that God has a sense of humor. God cannot have a sense of humor, this person insisted, because humor requires surprise, and God is omniscient and therefore cannot be surprised.” David provided a beautiful and logical response in his most recent blog. I encourage you to read the entire blog here but set forth below is a summary:
“What most disturbs me about the argument that God cannot have a sense of humor is that the image of a humorless God goes along with the image of a God who is quick to judge, who is harsh, punishing, who demands tribute and is picky about the details, concerned with the letter of the law more than the heart. I encountered all too much of this same sort of negative theology growing up; it made me fall away from religion for a long time until I finally realized that it is not what the church actually teaches, but is merely what negative people within the church teach. It causes so much damage to people’s hearts and spirits!
The argument that God is humorless not only damages people, it also is illogical. The argument makes two points: 1) humor requires surprise, and 2) God is omniscient, and so cannot be surprised. Now, I could make a case for why an omniscient God could nevertheless be surprised, but that is unnecessary, as the humorless God argument fails if its first point is false.
Does humor require surprise? Of course not. Have you ever watched a sitcom? Much of the things we laugh at are absolutely predictable; there is no surprise whatsoever. My own immersion experience in the ninety-some episodes of “Gilligan’s Island” made that absolutely clear. I had watched those episodes many times growing up, and occasionally as an adult. I knew what was coming. I still laughed. And when that negative Facebook comment made me think about this last fall as I was in the midst of watching all these silly episodes, I realized that even as a kid I probably was not often surprised by the action.
Humor is all about context. Surprise can be funny because of how it relates to our expectations, but the context that sets those expectations is far more important than surprise. I can laugh at what Gilligan says or does, for example, even though I know exactly what is going to happen. That’s because the episode provides the context for the kinds of things that would be funny, and the kinds of things that would not be funny.
Context implies relationship. . . . Humor does not depend on surprise. It depends on an understanding of context, and context implies relationship. God is all about relationship–that’s what Christians are saying when they describe God as a Trinity. We also describe God as perfectly humble, and humility is all about relationship, too: about knowing one’s full truth in the context of all things. Furthermore, God not only is all about relationship, but in addition, as creator, God sets the context of all things, too.
Humor is all about relationships in context. A perfectly humble, Trinitarian God, all about relationship and creator of all context, therefore, should have the greatest sense of humor of all!
There are other ways to make my case. I could say that if humans are created in the image of God, then our sense of humor is part of that image and so speaks to some genuine truth about God. Or I could say that God, having become fully human in the person of Jesus without losing divinity, surely must have a perfect understanding of all the emotions and experiences Jesus went through. (Don’t even try to tell me that Jesus never laughed….) But the argument in favor of a humorless God depends on belief that humor requires surprise, and that is patently false, and should take most people just a little reflection to realize that they find all kinds of things funny without being surprised.”
I strongly believe that the second point of David’s argument, that an omniscient God can be surprised, is also true. But that is the topic for a future discussion. Moreover, I also believe that God can be with us also during times of pain and suffering. God experiences those also and we can find joy even during these times. However, one of the greatest evangelization tools have is spreading the joy that stems from a relationship with God, especially when combined with humor.
Wishing each of you a joyful and peaceful week.