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God Has a Keen Sense of Humor

April 29, 2010; Tribune Media Services; God Has a Keen Sense of Humor; by Rabbi Marc Gellman.

A: Rabbi, does God have a sense of humor? Does he laugh? -- D., Long Island, NY, via

A: The answer is definitely yes! God has a great sense of humor. However, you have to understand what God thinks is funny. Now I wouldn't be so arrogant as to imagine that I know for sure what tickles the Eternal funny bone, however, the Bible does give us a few clues.

The first joke in the Bible, as I read it, is in the story of the Garden of Eden, which, all in all, is the funniest part of the Bible. We have a talking snake (Genesis 3:4) and if you don't laugh at that special effect, then you just don't get biblical humor. I wonder what language the snake was speaking? And what kind of accent does a snake have?

Then the story gets even funnier. Adam had just sinned with Eve by eating the forbidden fruit because the talking snake made it sound so good, when suddenly they hear the sound of God walking in the Garden in the "breezy time of day." (Genesis 3:8) Try to imagine an invisible God taking an afternoon stroll and you'll get the humor here. Then, in this Groucho-inspired biblical farce, Adam hides behind a bush so God can't see him. Right!

God can see the most distant, but when it comes to seeing a nearly naked guy hiding behind a bush, the Creator is stumped. I get it. God then continues the rib-splitting (sorry for the pun) charade by asking Adam, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). Adam then jumps out and proceeds to declare his sin, then blame his wife (are you smiling yet?). This is both funny and important. God asks us where we are when we sin, but God doesn't mean, "What bush are you hiding behind?" I would have expected nothing less from God.

The next joke in the Bible is in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis, Chapter 11. The story tells of people who wanted to build a tower up to heaven, then they thought they had actually done it. God's reaction is hilarious. The Bible states that "God came down to look at the city and the tower." (Genesis 11:5). The tower went up to heaven and still God had to come down to see it. Very funny. This is a spoof on our human arrogance and pretentions. Our most grandiose constructions are nothing in the eyes of God. (OK, I admit that this may not be Seinfeld funny, but it's divinely funny and another clue that God does indeed have a sense of humor.)

The story of Balaam's ass in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 22, is also a biblical joke fest. Balaam is a non-Jewish prophet sent on a mission to curse the Israelites. On the way, riding his donkey, an invisible angel blocks his path. Of course, donkeys are able to see invisible angels, so the donkey stops. Balaam whacks the donkey, which then starts talking to him. (Numbers 22: 22-28).

The funniest part of this story, of course, is a fact we all know to be true from our own dealings with various people -- that this was not the only ass God created who could speak!

My favorite proof text that I worship if not a funny God, then at least a God who appreciates laughter and joy, is the passage from Psalm 100: 2, "Serve the Lord in joy." (Hebrew: ivdu adonai b'simha). I know many people who've learned to serve God in fear, guilt and shame. There's some value in each of these emotions, but I believe in a God who wants us to come to God in laughter, joy, gladness and gratitude.

I believe in a God who wants our eyes moistened by tears of joy, not of sorrow. I bury many people and I try to always look at their faces first. When I see wrinkles at the corners of their eyes that can only be formed by a lifetime of smiling, I also smile. Their life has been formed the same way their soul was formed. They woke up each morning believing their blessings exceeded their burdens, and went to sleep each night thinking about what had been given to them, not what had been taken away. Smile wrinkles are the best sign that a person has served the Lord in joy. (And I bet they also laughed when they first heard about the talking snake and the talking donkey.)

Though not biblical, there's an old Yiddish saying, "Man plans and God laughs." (Mann tracht, Gott lacht). I love this saying and trot it out whenever I'm counseling people who think they have the right, the wisdom and the ability to plan and control everything about their lives. God laughs at such pretentions. I'm comfortable worshipping a laughing God. Actually, it would be hard for me to worship a God who couldn't take a joke.

And by the way, Lord, what precisely were you thinking when you made the platypus?

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