A funny Bible
By Tyler Tankersley
I was at Starbucks working on an upcoming sermon. An acquaintance of mine stopped me to say hello. We chatted for a while and then he said, "I saw recently that you were doing an online Bible Study on Jonah." I said, "Yeah! Were you able to join us?" The man looked uncomfortable and said, "Well...I...I just could not get past the fact that you said that we should read Jonah as humor. That felt disrespectful to me. I don't think we're supposed to treat the Bible as humorous."
"Are you kidding?" I said, "The Bible is full of comedy."
In Genesis 18, when God tells the nonagenarian Abraham that he and his equally elderly wife Sarah will have a baby, Sarah cannot help but laugh at the very idea. So, they decide to name the forthcoming kid: Isaac (the Hebrew word for laughter).
In Exodus 16, when the Israelites are wandering the wilderness, they are complaining that there is not enough bread for them. So, God sends them bread from heaven, which they call manna and is Hebrew for literally "What is it?" And who among us has not been handed a plate of food and thought, "Man...huh..."?
There is a wonderful line in 2 Chronicles 21 which lists a seemingly boring catalogue of kings in Israel. The listing for King Jehoram contains this snarky line: "After ruling for eight years he passed away, to no one's regret."
When Jesus is telling the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, he tells us that the rich man wore "purple and fine linen." The Greek word used for "fine linen" is bussos, and it referred to Egyptian cotton that was used to make fancy underwear. Jesus wants us to know that this wealthy fella loved his silk boxers!
But perhaps my favorite example of humor in the Bible comes from the book of Isaiah. The prophet is using the analogy that the people are pregnant with hopeful possibility when he says: "We were with child, we writhed. But we gave birth only to wind" (Isaiah 26:18).
And, yes, the Book of Jonah is full of comedy. It is the story of an unwilling prophet who attempts to flee from God (good luck, buddy), is swallowed by a fish, sings a song of thanksgiving from the fish's belly, and then is upset because the city he preaches to actually repents and turns towards God. It's hilarious.
Where did we somehow get the idea that in order for something to be holy it must be humorless, as well? I think one of the most spiritually mature practices we can have is the ability to laugh at ourselves.
I listed these and some other examples to the dude at Starbucks, including the satirical nature of the book of Jonah. He sort of shrugged as if to say, "Yeah. I guess so."
Before walking out of the coffee shop, he turned to me and said: "Hey. You're not gonna write about me in one of your columns in the paper, are you?"
"What?" I chuckled. "Of course not."