One of my favorite authors, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, once claimed that "religion without humor is blasphemy."
What I think he meant was that humor is a good and Godly gift, and to deny it is to deny a part of God's creation.
I love humor. I look for it and embrace it in many places. One place I have found laced with humor is the Bible. Indeed it has so much humor that I am convinced a theology of humor is possible.
"Theology" is the study of God and religious truths. Humor is basically comic situations. So, if you will, a theology of humor amounts to the study of divine things or religious truth in comic situations.
As I mentioned, the Bible has a lot of comic situations in it. Here are just a few examples.
Adam's name is a pun on "Adamah," the Hebrew word for earth, the substance he's made of (it's like naming him human for humus, or Clay or Rocky or Dusty or Sandy . . . or Mud).
David dons a hilariously oversized suit of armor. Balaam loses an argument with a talking donkey. Moreover, God often uses ironic humor to subvert the status quo, e.g., mighty Pharaoh raises a poor Hebrew child who ends up as Moses, the leader of liberation and law; and mighty Herod goes crazy in an unsuccessful hunt for a poor little baby born to be a king in a stinking stable.
Jesus is quite funny, too. He notes how we see a speck in our neighbor's eye, while ignoring a log in our own eye. He uses the hilarious image of a camel going through the eye of needle. He rides a donkey into Jerusalem in a parade of the people mocking Pilate, who's riding in from the other side of town on a horse in a grand parade of power. The point of this joke being that God's power is not in earthly power's pomp and circumstance.
I could go on and on with Biblical humor, as comedy truly can be found as an integral part of the Bible. Plain and simple, the Bible uses humor to teach. Jesus uses humor to protest and preach.
The reason humor is used in the Bible and by Jesus is not only that it is fun, but we can learn by picking up points in the story, in humorous caricatures and by seeing how silly humans can be. Humor often offers an easier lesson than direct criticism.
With a theology of humor we can understand that God wants us to laugh, as well as laugh with us as we learn and live.
Psalm 2:4 states that the God who "sits in the heavens will laugh."
As images of God, we also laugh, it is a gift from God, as the Book of Job notes, "God fills our mouth with laughter."
Humor is good for us. It relieves stress and allows us to share in a good laugh.
But humor can also be subversive by pointing out the absurdity of oppressor's positions, by portraying oppressors less than the lofty gods of power they want us to think they are and by giving us new visions of what is truly powerful (i.e., God) and what we are called to do and be.
We know that God acts in ways that are subversive, from the Exodus to the Cross, God subverts the status quo, and calls us to do so in many ways, including through humor in the Bible.
In short, if we ignore our culture's piety, a wonderful theology of humor awaits us in the pages of our Bibles.
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org and his vlog at www.youtube.com/AgodVlog.