There is a place for humor. Comedy, humor, and jokes not only evokes laughter but can also drive an idea past our natural defenses and into our hearts. A few days ago a third grader came up to me and asked, “What do dolphins eat with their peanut butter?” “Um, I don’t know, strawberry jam?” I guessed. “Jellyfish,” he responded with a chuckle. Ok, its a groaner along the lines of Laffy Taffy. But humor made memorable that dolphins do eat jellyfish. Humor also has its dark side; when it is used to hurt, mock, and damage someone else.
Consider: Bob stared at the Facebook post in horror. The post showed two shirtless men, one of them with his face, raising a glasses of beer behind a sign that read, “Coming Out Party.” The poster of the apparently altered photo was Carl, a classmate in the same dorm. Bob ran to Carl’s room and pounded on the door. “You idiot, take down that post now!” Bob growled to Carl’s grinning face. “Hey man, chill out, I was only joking.”
The writer of Proverbs states, “Just as damaging as a madman shooting a deadly weapon is someone who lies to a friend and then says, “I was only joking.” (Proverbs 26:18–19, NLT) If I take a .22 pistol and shoot your foot you will be in pain, have a difficult time walking, and no doubt have a scar even after the wound is healed. If I take the same .22 pistol, shoot your foot and then say “Sorry, I was only joking.” Guess what? You will still be in pain, still have a difficult time walking, and still have a scar after the wound is healed over. This can also be true of the words we speak, the reactions we post on Facebook, and the arrows flung via email. The pain and hurt caused in others cannot be altered by saying that we were only joking. We may feel better, having pushed our guilt into a corner, but the other person is still wounded and in pain.
As followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t be shooting holes in anyone anyway. But what if we do. What if we push send on an email that shouldn’t go out or share something that shouldn’t be broadcasted to the world? When we realize what we have done it is necessary to confront our guilt before God and man. It’s that last part which I believe is the largest failing of most Christian fellowship. We do pretty good at taking our sins to God, confessing and repenting before His throne and receiving forgiveness. But we (myself included) struggle with confessing and repenting to the person or persons we have damaged. Instead, we receive our forgiveness from God, we feel better about ourselves, but the other person is still walking around with the damage of our foolishness.
Paul instructs his readers that, “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.” (Ephesians 5:4, NLT) It doesn’t mean that we have to walk around with frowns and never crack a joke. It does mean that our joking should never be at someone else’s expense. I’ve been the butt of a long-running joke, it was hurtful and humiliating even though I pretended to ignore it. God in His grace has healed me and released me from the bondage it caused, but the scar remains. If you’re the type to say “I was only joking” perhaps you should consider what God thinks about it. If you’ve been hurt and wounded by the “jokes” of others God can and does heal.