Do you wonder if Jesus ever laughed? Does it feel incongruous that Almighty God might enjoy a belly laugh?
Most of the pictures we have of Jesus reveal a strong but serious man. After all, he drove out the moneychangers and regularly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. He never wavered from his eternal mission to seek and save the lost.
But Jesus was fully man and fully God. As a result, he felt the full gamut of emotions. He wept over the death of Lazarus (John 11) and grew angry at the hard-hearted response of the religious leaders. He certainly bore all the fruits of the Spirit, including joy.
Robert Funk put it like this, “Jesus used humor and hyperbole to punch holes in pomposity … Part of Jesus’ charisma, was that he attended parties, drank wine, used irony, and hung out with outcasts.“
Portraying Jesus in His Humanity
Tim Washer, on episode 141, reminded me of the painting by Ralph Kozak which portrays Jesus laughing with his head tilted back in pure delight—perhaps even a belly laugh. This painting was inspired by Willis Wheatley, one of the first modern artists to see a side of Jesus that includes laughter and joy.
Seeing Jesus Laugh
If you assume Jesus had a sense of humor, you might read some of his encounters with a different lens. For example, was he trying to sneak up on the disciples to say “boo” when he walked on water across the Sea of Galilee? Probably not, but maybe?
Jesus certainly loved to be with children and children love to laugh. I’ve noticed that children quickly choose to spend time with people who make them happy and avoid those who are negative and mean. Children flocked to Jesus.
Jesus also used some pretty funny illustrations in his teaching. Can you imagine a camel trying to crawl through the eye of a needle?
And what about the image of people walking around with logs in their eyes? That would be pretty awkward at a networking event, especially if the log were five feet long: “Hi, my name is Phil…oh, I’m so sorry. Did I hit you in the head? Oops! I didn’t mean to spill your drink. Let me help you…oh, there I go again. Please forgive me, this silly log keeps getting in the way.”
Laughter after Deliverance
When Jesus healed blind men or raised someone from the dead, there was tremendous rejoicing and dancing. Can you hear the laughter in their voices? We tend to laugh when something happens that is too good to be true.
Sarah laughed when God promised a son in her old age—something that seemed too good to be true. But when Isaac arrived, she said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Gen 21:6 ESV).
In Job 8, Bildad rightly observes that the result of restoration is: “He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy” (Job 8:21 NLT).
Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV). This echoes the Psalms which proclaim, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11 NLT).
The Right Time To Laugh
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV). Have you ever tried to crack a joke when in the midst of an intense debate or a profound moment? It often falls flat or feels awkward.
Great communicators know how to interlace humor to allow their messages to hit a deeper level. Michael Jr. says that laughter increases our ability to remember what we learn by 33%. Sometimes we just need to back away from something serious and get some perspective before we dive back in.
G.K. Chesterton observed, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
Why did Chesterton tell jokes about Jesus? “Humor,” he said, “can get in the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”
But many of us choose laughter to avoid pain. Jesus tells us it’s okay to weep and mourn—laughter and dancing will come again.
Laughing at Others
Scripture clearly teaches us to avoid sarcasm, coarse joking, and even self-deprecating humor, if it dishonors God’s image in us. Look at a couple of examples:
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” (Prov. 26:18–19 ESV).
“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4 ESV).
Hearing God Laugh
Around half of the Biblical references to laughter speak of God’s scoffing and derision toward the godless. He knows the futility of their attempts to save themselves and resist his grace. While it obviously saddens him, God also laughs because he knows how it’s going to end. One example is Psalm 59:8, “But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.”
How I Want to Hear Jesus Laugh
When Peter told Jesus he was willing to die with him, Jesus must have laughed as he responded with something like this, “Oh, silly Peter. I love your zeal, and you will one day die for me. But tonight you’re going to deny me three times. I told Satan he can sift you. One day, you’ll look back on your foolish zeal. I love you. It’s okay” (my loose paraphrase).
I believe Jesus delights in us, believes in us, prays for us, and laughs with us. When we are down, he lifts our heads. When we’re on top of the world, he rejoices with us and then walks with us as we descend into the valley of normalcy (and even despondency).
When I look at this picture of Jesus laughing, I find hope. Times of laughing will come again. I can even find reasons to laugh on my hardest days.
What do you think the laughter of heaven sounds like?
Father, teach me to laugh, weep, mourn, and rejoice. Help me to hear your voice throughout the day, not just when you’re correcting me or teaching me. Like a child with his Father, help me delight in being with you, laughing at silly things, and enjoying your creation. Use me to bring joy to someone else today. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.