Seriousness is the ground of humor

C.S. Lewis brilliantly describes how taking one another seriously in friendship forms a solid foundation for humor.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

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Humor and Self-Forgetfulness

Karl Rahner has an interesting perspective on humor. He suggests that genuine humor is the expression of genuine love for another while forgetting about oneself. This is what he says about this idea.

“Not everybody, however, has a genuine sense of humor. That calls for an altruistic detachment from oneself and a mysterious sympathy with others which is felt even before they open their mouths. Only the person who has also a gift for affection can have a true sense of humor. A good laugh is a sign of love; it may be said to give us a glimpse of, or a first lesson in, the love that God bears for every one of us.”

Quotes by George MacDonald

C.S. Lewis called George MacDonald his “master.” Lewis considered himself a student of MacDonald and attributed significant influence on his writing. Here are a few quotes from MacDonald.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”
“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
“Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”
“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”
 “To try to be brave is to be brave.”
“Come, then, affliction, if my Father wills, and be my frowning friend. A friend that frowns is better than a smiling enemy. ”
 “The world…is full of resurrections… Every night that folds us up in darkness is a death; and those of you that have been out early, and have seen the first of the dawn, will know it – the day rises out of the night like a being that has burst its tomb and escaped into life.”

Karl Barth on Amazement, Humor, and Joy

Here are some helpful quotes by Karl Barth. Hope you enjoy.

On Amazement


“At the beginning of all theological perception, research, and thought – and also of every theological statement – stands a quite specific amazement. Its lack in even the best theologian will threaten the heart of the entire enterprise, while even bad theologians are not a lost cause in their service and their duty, as long as they are still capable of amazement.”
On Humor


“Having a sense of humor means not being stiff but flexible. Humor arises when we have insight into the contradiction between our existence as children of God and as children of this age, and we become conscious of our actions in a lively way. Humor means a great bucketing of the serious side of the present.”
On Joy


“Joy is the rarest and most infrequent thing in the world. We already have enough fanatical seriousness, enthusiasm, and humorless zeal in the world. But joy? This shows us that the perception of the living God is rare. When we have found God our Saviour – or when he has found us – we will rejoice in him…joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
On Freedom


“It is true that free people will also strive for independence, as far as that makes sense. But free people are not compelled to want independence by every external compulsion.  They can also find all kinds of undesired discipline to be acceptable and pleasing.”
On Easter


“What happened on that day (of Easter) became, was and remained the centre around which everything else moves. For everything lasts its time, but the love of God – which was at work and was expressed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – lasts forever. Because this event took place, there is no reason to despair, and even when we read the newspaper with all its confusing and frightening news, there is every reason to hope.”
 

The Gospel and Humor

What does the gospel have to do with humor. Tim Keller gives an insightful answer to this question in an article titled: The Gospel and Humor. Here is a portion of this article.

“Does the gospel have an effect on our sense of humor?” The answer has to be yes—but why and how? Your humor has a lot to do with how you regard yourself. Many people use humor to put down others, keep themselves in the driver’s seat in a conversation and setting, and remind the listeners of their superior vantage point. They use humor not to defuse tension and put people at ease, but to deliberately belittle the opposing view. Rather than showing respect and doing the hard work of true disagreement, they mock others’ points of view and dismiss them without actually engaging the argument.

Ultimately, sarcastic put-down humor is self-righteous —a form of self-justification— and that is what the gospel demolishes. When we grasp that we are un- worthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. This is also true of self-directed ridicule. Some people constantly and bitterly mock themselves. At first it looks like a form of humility, or realism, but really it is just as self-absorbed as the other version. It is a sign of an inner discomfort with one’s self, a profound spiritual restlessness.

There is another kind of self-righteousness, however, that produces a person with little or no sense of humor. Moralistic persons often have no sense of irony, be- cause they take themselves too seriously or because they are too self-conscious and self-absorbed in their own struggles to be habitually joyful.

The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. Our doctrine of sin keeps us from being over-awed by anyone (especially ourselves) or shocked by any behavior. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us anymore, because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance. Our doctrine of grace and redemption also keeps us from seeing any situation as hopeless. This “ground note” of joy and peace makes humor spontaneous and natural.

In gospel-shaped humor, we don’t only poke fun at ourselves. We also can gently poke fun at others, espe- cially our friends, but it is always humor that takes the other seriously and ultimately builds them up as a show of affection. We are not to be “perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously— no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

So how do we get such a sense of humor? That’s the wrong question. The gospel doesn’t change us in a mechanical way. To give the gospel primacy in our lives is not always to logically infer a series of principles from it that we then “apply” to our lives. Recently I heard a sociologist say that, for the most part, the frameworks of meaning by which we navigate our lives are so deeply embedded in us that they operate “pre-reflectively.” They don’t exist only as a list of propositions and formulations, but also as themes, motives, attitudes, and values that are as affective and emotional as they are cognitive and intellectual. When we listen to the gospel preached, or meditate on it in the Scripture, we are driving it so deeply into our hearts, imaginations, and thinking that we begin to “live out” the gospel instinctively.