Holy Wit?

church-miceA little while ago I wrote about sorrow, mentioning 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 which talks about “Godly sorrow” and how feeling haunted by our sin can lead us to repentance, which should then lead us to an understanding that we are forgiven. I there spoke about how I can find it hard to let go of things, to accept forgiveness, and that that plays a part in my anxiety and depression.

Today, I would like to write, not about sorrow, but about laughter. One of the things that depression robs from me is my sense of humour – my appreciation of jokes and fun. Suddenly everything becomes so serious – and if you tell me a joke I will probably frown at you. Yet, I still appreciate humour to a certain degree when I’m ill – I may not be able to laugh, and I certainly cannot accept being teased (having taken on a very literal think-the-worst sort of mindset) but I do get something from humour. I have a good friend who is a big joker, always making fun of everything and everyone. I really appreciate that when I am ill, he continues to be himself, and doesn’t become all serious because I am unwell.

Sometimes it seems like Christianity is such a serious thing that we shouldn’t laugh, that making a religious-themed joke is somehow off-limits, something we shouldn’t do. There are not, after all, many jokes in the Bible (although there is quite a lot of irony in the Gospel of John.) I can understand that people are concerned lest we devalue our faith, lest we show disrespect to God in some way, but for me, I joke about things I am serious about, and if I start teasing you and having a laugh with you, it is because I like you. If I disliked you – I would be perfectly polite and serious. Essentially laughter, fun and jokes are a way into my heart, and I really enjoy religious (and non-religious) humour.

I like comedy – such as Les Dawson, Dick Emery, the Carry On films and Allo Allo. And other things, of course. I’m currently enjoying “Off Their Rockers”. In the religious side of things I have written before of how much I like Adrian Plass‘ gently humorous take on the Christian life. Sitting beside me today I have “Holy Wit” and “More Holy Wit,” both by Rev. James A. Simpson. I’d definitely recommend these little volumes, and here is a sample, which I hope will appeal to my somewhat international audience:

A Scottish minister who had once in his own church preached a very effective sermon on the text, “Naaman was a commander of the Syrian army, but he was a leper”, decided to preach the same sermon during an American exchange. What he did not realise was that the word butt in America refers to a person’s posterior! The three points of his sermon were:
‘Everyone of us has a but.’
‘It is easy to see other people’s buts.’
‘It is difficult to see your own but.’
The congregation had difficulty hiding their amusement.

The Bible talks about humour, for example in Proverbs it says that: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (17:22) I’m sure that anyone who suffers from depression understands the pain of having a crushed spirit, and we all know the happiness that comes from a well-told joke, or something good happening to us. Research into the medical benefits of humour has been on-going for around thirty years, and has shown that:

Humor seems to have the potential to effectuate pain relief, strengthen immune function, improve positive emotions, moderate stress, dissociate from distress and improve interpersonal processes [1]

I have heard of “laughter classes” – they went through a fad a few years ago, but apparently they have never been scientifically investigated. However, the article I am reading (which is linked at the bottom of this) states that there have been studies done where psychiatric patients were shown funny films twice a day, and others “normal” films, and there were good results in terms of their mood and behaviour. The article also talks about using hospital clowns in psychiatric environments – I have only heard of these on children’s wards, so that was interesting.

I have to admit that I don’t know very much about the medical use of humour, and I certainly don’t know how to read and evaluate a scientific study, so what I am reporting may be a load of woo, but I feel that humour has an important part to play in our lives and in promoting mental good health. To me, it brings a connection to other people, laughing with them, and it lightens my mood. I wish I had more ability to see humour when I am ill, but it does provide some measure of comfort to hear a joke, even if it is a bittersweet sort of joke about mental illness or ward conditions, or similar. I certainly don’t want to live a religion where I feel I mustn’t joke about it! Humour, laughter, good fun, is a part of normal life for me, part of having a good life, and therefore I think that God absolutely likes our jokes and puns and so on. Long may the laughter continue.

How does Moses make tea?
He-brews it!



[1] The Use of Humor in Serious Mental Illness: A Review, Marc Gelkopf, http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/342837/




  1. […] writes about religion, humour and mental health. The psychology student smiled in me when I saw there was an academic reference in this […]

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