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Janie B. Cheaney: Waiting for God’s punchline

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WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Waiting for God’s punchline

Life isn’t a joke, but we miss something important by taking it too seriously


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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 8th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. WORLD Commentator Janie B. Cheaney now on God’s sense of humor.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: After waiting hours in pre-op, growing increasingly anxious, my husband had to answer a call of nature. No sooner had the bathroom door closed behind him than the gurney arrived. Our neighbor in the pre-op room who had been easing his own anxiety with a stream of wisecracks, now took advantage of the perfect setup. How could we shock my husband out of the john and into the operating room? He suggested, “Tell him you’re pregnant.”

Why was that funny? Recall one of the oldest jokes in the Bible, played on Sarah as she eavesdropped on a conversation between her husband and a visiting stranger. In one year, the stranger told Abraham, your wife will have a baby. She could not suppress her cynical laughter. A ninety-year-old woman becoming pregnant met all the hallmarks of comedy: the surprise, the reversal, the incongruity of a dignified gentleman slipping on a banana peel. True, the joke seemed cruel, but Sarah didn’t have to wait long for the punchline. And then she had to laugh again, but joyfully, not cynically.

Does God have a sense of humor? Philosopher Peter Kreeft insists that God is the author of humanity’s best jokes (namely, humans). His latest book is titled, Ha! A Christian Philosophy of Humor. In the introduction, he explains, “I was about to write a serious, heavy book entitled How to Save Western Civilization, as a sequel to my book How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss. But writing it was not making me happy, and reading it was not going to make anybody else happy either.”

Indeed: Saving Western Civilization can so occupy our minds that there’s no room to crack a smile. Are we taking ourselves too seriously? Friendships are destroyed and families divided over politics, when a good joke could dissolve tension and restore some perspective. Psalm 2:4 says God in heaven laughs at human pretensions. Can’t we?

Not all varieties of laughter are healthy, such as the scornful kind, the mocking kind, the dismissive and sarcastic and disdainful kinds. The best kind comes at the expense of our own frailties and pomposities. Life is not a joke, but we are: created in dust but destined for glory, with countless pratfalls along the way.

There is a time to weep. But joy comes in the morning, a joy made richer by suffering—or as Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” He himself entered the heart of suffering on the cross, the darkest three hours in history. Yet in the end, God’s greatest reversal: a resurrection that knocked Satan on his backside and secured an eternity of holy laughter for us slightly ridiculous humans.

Our world has always been determined to make itself miserable, but we don’t have to play along. It’s not that we’re immune or indifferent to misery: we’re just waiting for the final punchline.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


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