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Comedy and Christianity – draft 4

...And so idolatry is not the way back to paradise, and neither is worldly success and neither even is biblical religion. All those ways are ridiculous. Here is the way back to paradise - it's the LORD Jesus Himself.And this is the very deepest irony of the bible - the very deepest irony of the universe. Jesus Himself is the way back to God.

Every other way to God assumes that humanity has to work salvation before a silent, watching, helpless god. And when you think that you tie yourself up in ridiculous knots and the bible laughs at you. But Jesus shockingly shifts our perspective. In Jesus it is God who works salvation before a silent, watching, helpless humanity. This is the ultimate shocking shift of perspective - we don't work our way to Him. He comes to us. It's not about us performing for Him. He performs FOR US. In our place. On our behalf. The LORD lives the life we should live. And then He dies the death we should die.

Jesus so enters into OUR predicament, He even takes on our suffering, our curse, our judgement, our death.

Think about the cross for a second. It is THE most serious thing ever and it is comedic. Thoroughly comedic.

There is Jesus, the Man who claimed to be God, nailed to a piece of wood. The Jewish authorities considered Him a blasphemer. The Romans executed Him as a common criminal. His friends and followers have abandoned Him. Even God His Father has abandoned Him on the cross. All is darkness as this Man in the prime of His life is cut off. And you know what His last words were? "I did it!" "I did it!" You could translate Jesus' last words as "Finished! Paid! Completed! Done!" Jesus' last words, dying a godforsaken death, were "I did it!"

What did He do? How does the cross accomplish anything? Friends, don't you get it? You can't climb into heaven to be with Him - and you only look ridiculous when you try. You don't climb up to heaven. He climbed down to be with you. He came and met us where we are - in the depths of darkness and wickedness and curse. So the LORD who cries out "I did it!" in the depths of our tragedy - He is the LORD who's done EVERYTHING to bring you into His presence. He's gone to hell and back to work your salvation. And He offers it to you right now - IN all your darkness. IN all your ridiculous idolatry, IN all your trying to make a success of yourself, IN all your attempts to be very religious. IN all your laughable stupidity and wilful evil - Jesus says "HERE, I've done it. I'VE done it." Will you stop your striving and receive it? Will you just get it? Don't you get it?

When Jesus rose three days later it was the ultimate shock, the ultimate Custard Pie in the face of humanity's greatest enemy. Death was dethroned. Which means Christians can now taunt death - where's your victory grave, where's your sting death? Jesus death swallowed up death.

It's the ultimate irony. Jesus wins us heaven, by going to hell. He kills death, by dying. He judges evil, by being judged. He gains victory through total surrender. He enters our tragedy - and through the most tragic event of all, brings a comedy. Isn't that ironic?! It's the deepest of all ironies. But when you get it, you'll have a shocking shift in perception. You'll see Jesus differently, yourself differently, life, death and eternity differently. It will be the most happy realization. It's what Christians call "faith", but really it just means getting the joke. Getting this central joke that unlocks all reality - How can Jesus the LORD die but in doing so shout out "I did it!"?

Do you get it? Do you get what Jesus did? If you don't get it, don't stop pestering every Christian you know until you get it. Don't stop coming to church, keep coming. Pick up a bible and read Jesus' life stories, pray that God would help you to get it. Because when you do, you'll rejoice, the angels in heaven will rejoice - there will be laughter all round when you get it.

If you don't get it - every laugh you'll ever have will ultimately be hollow.

You know my big problem with "The Life of Brian". It's not that it satirizes Christians - Jesus was a lot harsher to the religious of His own day. It's not even that it satirizes the Christian story - I don't expect non-Christians to reverence what we reverence. Here's my problem with "The Life of Brian" - the ending.

You see it's actually not a comedy - not in the classical sense. Actually, technically, the film is a tragedy. It ends with the hero crucified and there's no triumph, there's no "I did it!" - there's only failure and death in the end. And all they can do is whistle a wry little ditty as they choke to death on the cross. "Life is quite absurd and death's the final word." Now it's a fine film. A funny film. But in the end it's gallows humour. In the end, it's just a tragedy. The problem with the Life of Brian is not that it is a comedy. The problem is it's not a comedy. Without the victory of Jesus, without the resurrection of Jesus, the Life of Brian is just one more tragedy sprinkled with gallows humour. And if you don't get the Good News of Jesus, you may laugh, you may laugh loud - but you won't laugh long. If death's the final word then all your humour will be gallows humour. Only Christ can give you true comedy, joyful comedy, lasting comedy.
Comedy is serious. Christianity is comedic.



12 thoughts on “Comedy and Christianity – draft 4

  1. codepoke

    I don't know what to think, Glen.

    You bit off a lot when you tried to portray the entirety of history, and the book that explains it, as comedy. And you've certainly written well and truly. I'm just not sure you've fulfilled your promise to make me think of the bible as comedy.

    Comedy is a loaded word. When I hear comedy, I think humor, and the bible has only the sparsest degree of humor. There may be humor in the garden and on the mountain with the false prophets, but there's a LOT of pathos in scripture. Jesus' wit with the Pharisees is real, but it's not humorous. It's terrifying.

    I'll agree the bible is not tragedy. On that basis alone, you make your thesis. And you kick butt with the thought that humor is not comedy. Humor is, after all, a way of coping with tragedy. I'd really drive home that thought that all the humor that surrounds us is whistling through the graveyard.

    Still, I feel shortchanged. It seems to me that when you promise the bible is comedy, and the stories you tell all sound serious to me, I feel like you pulled a mouse out of your hat. I expected a rabbit, and that mouse seems like it would fit pretty conveniently up your sleeve. Yeah, you can convince me the bible has a happy ending, and there's some acerbic wit sprinkled across its pages, but comedy? It's not your fault that word has changed meanings over the centuries, but it has.

    Very profitable reading, and excellent points all the way through. At some point, I'd just warn the audience not to expect a rabbit to jump out of the hat.

  2. glenscriv

    Thanks Code,

    I'll definitely use that line: "whistling through the graveyard." And you express much clearer than I the sense in which the world thinks of comedy as humour 'to cope with tragedy'. In the Christian sense, comedy is humour based in hope - the very opposite.

    And very helpful point on managing expectations of what 'comedy' means. Not basically "slap your thigh funny" but rather "subversive", "deeply ironic", "shocking shift in perspective" etc, etc. (Though I do think it's also funny in many many places - if you don't laugh at Jonah you haven't read it right!)

    That's helped me a lot actually. Thanks

  3. Gav

    I have NEVER heard the Gospel preched that way before. It was very helpful to me to hear the three categories where humanity has failed to get back to paradise. A good structure for me to recall on.


    PS hows Emma?

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Gav,
    Thanks for the encouragement.
    Emma's home but still pretty sick. Can't see a specialist fro another month. We're praying for 'perseverence, character and hope' (Romans 5:1-5)


  5. bobby grow

    Given the only two options, from a literary perspective, scripture certainly fits comedy (the protagonist "wins" through reversal) . . . now if Christ didn't raise that would definitely be tragedy . . . and we of all men would be most pitiful.

  6. codepoke

    You're amazingly open-minded, Glen. I'm so glad you were able to profit from those thoughts. I have to second Gav's thoughts about the presentation you make here of the gospel.

    Praise the Lord.

    Humor as a means of surviving tragedy is well-documented, btw. You might make mention of the fact that when suddenly found in a survival situation, the person who can laugh is many times more likely to survive. Laughter opens up all sorts of channels in the brain that help you take in information and process it effectively. This God-given trait is not the same as comedy, though, and you have an excellent point to punch home.

    May the Lord bless your connection with your audience.

  7. glenscriv

    Good point Bobby. And thanks Code - just gave the talk and I think unfortunately my connection with the audience was lost about 30 seconds into the talk when I mentioned "Life of Brian"! People weren't quite ready to hear that there were redeeming features to this satire. Oh well! Whatever was the Lord's seed wasn't wasted.

  8. Will

    Seems I well and truly missed the boat on this discussion!

    Sounds like it went well enough though Glen - well done. You can use this "material" again of course!

    I was just going to observe that so often in comedy the mocker detaches himself from his target in such a way that what he or she says can't possibly be taken as loving. But look at the way Jesus follows his excoriation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 with the wonderfully affectionate "O Jerusalem, often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." I would love to hear a Christian using humour and pathos in the same way, and actually mean it.

    By the way did you get my email about coming to visit on June 12 or sometime thereafter?


  9. glenscriv

    Excellent point Will, I was going to mention that Matthew 23 point in the question and answer session afterwards but I didn't have the time.

    Comedy so often depends on superiority to make the joke work - even if you're a slave you imagine the king getting a custard pie and you laugh - just for a second you are superior. It's why racism (and other isms) are a problem in comedy because the joke-teller gets the audience on board to ridicule another person/institution/race etc.

    Jesus' example is to devastate but with open arms! What a combination. In fact - doesn't it make you want to worship Him!?

    I think we can follow this example a) when the Scriptures ridicule you, to take it on the chin, own it and draw *nearer* to the LORD who has open arms behind those devastating rebukes, b) whenever we are ridiculed from outside to seek to own up to whatever of that ridicule is true and to respond with meekness, and c) whenever ridiculing another to somehow communicate - this hurts me more than it hurts you! That's such an impossible task - but any time we try to follow Jesus' model it's impossible - but He can show us as we step out in faith.

    And yes - got your email. Sorry for no response. But yes - really looking forward to seeing you. I haven't planned to escape the country at that point, so I'm sure we can figure out something!! :-)


    in much inferior your joke imagines the king

  10. Will

    yes - must bear in mind application (a) especially!

    re my visit what generally do you have as a day off? and are you preaching at all at your church on 14th or 21st June (if so morning or evening?) i would love to come and see you in action!

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