Â Violating a social taboo has been a universal technique for generating laughter in a cohesive society. For example, in some tribal societies, the clown-shaman could make the group laugh by pretending to drink cow urine and enjoy the taste. This may be the Ur “shock” comedy.
However, rather than universal, most comedy is social, that is, relative to a particular group’s experience and values. Johnny Carson said that â€œwhen you walk out and do a piece of humorous business, it’s not going to affect everybody the same because it is all relative to their own individual experience with it – how they relate to it.”
So what is a Christian to think when an attempt to produce laughter by violating a social taboo (in this case, forbidden words), encounters, not a cohesive audience laughing, but rather, a diverse audience, for whom the words produce anger, sadness, and fear? (I’m talking about the case of Don Imus, late of CBS radio and MSNBC television.)
The Bible contains no jokes or clowns. Joy, rather than laughter, is the fruit of life in the Kingdom of God. God does, however, have a lot to say about our tongue and its words.
The wisest man, Solomon, learned that “the one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). In other words, the problem is in our hearts â€“ we either try to cover up our heart’s bad attitude with deceitful words (becoming actors – “hypocrites”- as Jesus labels us), or we speak our true feelings, avoid being hypocrites, but become, instead, fools. What is the answer? As always, we need a heart transplant, and that can only be done by Another.
The posture of our heart is the key. If we have made Jesus the head of our lives, our heart and our tongues seek to become more like Him as we live in the Kingdom of God. Our tongues seek to have His intentions as we speak. But if we choose to remain the head of our lives, our tongues will say whatever we need for them to say to get what we want, as we go our merry way in the Present Evil Age. (Most of us, wanting to follow Jesus, neverthelessÂ walk the linguistic line between the Ages Present and Yet To Come.)
Solomon also predicted that “if you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” (Proverbs 9:12). He positions wise words as the antithesis of mocking words. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, “mock” means to deride, ridicule, scorn, or sneer at. “Mockerâ€ -“empaiktes” in Greek – means false teacher, suggesting the effect of mockery on others: from mockery we learn to think poorly of ourselves or of others.
Clearly, in the Kingdom of God, we are to speak words that heal rather than words that hurt. But what of those of us who claim our words do not truly reflect whoÂ we reallyÂ are? Jesus was blunt:
“The tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,Â for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)
Our mouths convict us.
Do we pray, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like Don Imus?” Or should we pray, “God have mercy on me, a sinner”?