OK, the better way to ask that question is, “why did God give us the ability to laugh?” I read a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip this morning (see below) and was struck by the absolute profound nature of the transaction between the two main characters. While Calvin remarks that it seems odd evolution should give us the ability to laugh at absurdity, my perspective allows me to attribute our ability to laugh to God.
Returning to Calvin’s’ question, why do we a laugh at the absurd? Why would God make us so that we would have such a strange physiological response to nonsense and further, why do we seem to enjoy it? It’s like watching an old Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy short comedy film. I still love them, even though in many ways, they are hopelessly archaic…and incredibly silly. They make me laugh.
But while Calvin muses about the survival benefit of laughter in an evolutionary scheme of things, I ask the question of an intelligent and purposeful God. Why do we laugh at the absurdities of life? Directing the question to God makes Hobbes’ answer all the more frightening to me:
I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.
That implies a couple of things. That a lot of what happens to us is nonsensical, absurd, or just plain crazy. And that if we couldn’t laugh at the strangeness of life, we wouldn’t have any other way of responding to it.
I’m not saying that life is endlessly funny. In many ways, life is almost endlessly tragic. Just turn on the local TV news or watch CNN for an hour and you’ll see what I mean. But then again, Calvin and Hobbes aren’t talking about humor, they’re talking about the strange, the bizarre, and probably the tragic and the hopeless. Not that we should laugh at the trouble and hardship of others, but often the only thing we can do when the bizarre little twists and turns of laugh overwhelm us and threaten to engulf us is to laugh.
My friend Joe Hendricks is a perfect example of what I mean. As he and his wife Heidi struggle in their continual wrestling match with cancer, the tool they most often use to combat despair and depression is humor. I’m not sure I’d find that many laughs if I were in their shoes (and I’m sure Heidi’s shoes wouldn’t even come close to fitting, anyway), but it works for them. Maybe it works for us to as we watch them…as I watch them, and feel utterly powerless to do anything to help them.
Is that why God gave us the ability to laugh? So we could also endure our own hideous hardships and the heartbreaking experiences of others without completely falling apart?
I’ve heard it said on many occasions that it’s faith that gets us through the tough times but I wonder if it’s really laughter? I wonder, when push comes to shove, if prayer is the most important way we can respond when faced with the horrible and insane events of our world?
How ironic if the sole purpose of having a sense of humor is to keep us from crying all the time when we’re alone and when we’re hurt and when we’re scared.
And when life makes absolutely no sense at all and we feel completely out of control.