Last year when Barely Adventist informed the digital world that beloved televangelist Doug Batchelor would be making his debut on Dancing With the Stars, a passionate diatribe on the holiness of humor erupted on social media comments sections.
During the literary melee, a theme emerged among those on the faithful but frowning side of Adventism. “You think in a dying world with three angels message to preach and seven plagues about to drop it's time for joke?” asked one Sadventist.
Echoing the sentiments, another lachrymose truth-lover asked, “Do you understand how serious it is to know that there is a judgment happening and it involves the entire world …?”
One user, self-named simply "Adventist" and no doubt representing a large demographic of the church, writes, “What about sober and composed and calm and a right mind do you think is something you would call a stick in the mud? Perhaps you would be more comfortable at a comedy club than you would before the judgment seat of God.”
Judgment and humor don’t mix — or do they?
While space constraints prevent us from delving into the mechanics, styles and definitions of humor, it is important to explore the simple idea of laughter in the context of judgment lest we find ourselves misrepresenting our own eschatology like the conscientious but sadly mistaken humor-haters responding to yesteryear’s satirical post.
Let’s begin with a basic truth — Adventists are an apocalyptic people. “We Have This Hope”1 is a common Adventist hymn sung around the world — especially at official church gatherings. Historian George Knight says, "If Adventism loses its apocalyptic vision, it has lost its reason for existing as either a church or a system of education."2
Adventist identity is rooted in books like Daniel and Revelation pointing forward to the moment when Jesus is revealed (apocalypse) to the world and the earth is made new.
Which leads us to the crucial point — of all the Christian traditions on Earth, Adventists should appreciate a robust sense of humor because humor is apocalyptic. One scholar points out, "Whether in righteous judgment, putting self-deifying mortals in their proper place (Psalm 2) or in crushing our despair at the foot of the cross, God always gets the last laugh. Gospel-grounded hope is the foundation of Christian laughter. This laughter springs from belief in God's ability to bring radical reversals of fortune within this badly fallen world."3
Within our denominational name is the hope of looking forward to seeing Jesus, and within our fundamental beliefs is the knowledge that the earth will be made new — free from all sickness, death and suffering (Rev. 21:1–7 and belief number 28).
We may dwell alongside the world’s darkness, but the Spirit of God dwells inside us with the light of heaven — meaning that, like God, we can laugh with “He who sits in the heavens” (Psalm 2:4) because “heaven is all joy”4 and the end of the story written by the One in the heavens is happy. If we are unable to laugh, and cite the judgment as a reason, perhaps we have either forgotten the hope we profess to have, or we have fallen into a pattern of teaching the apocalypse in such a way as to emphasis last plagues rather than the parousia.5
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, says, “Humor is proof that everything is going to be all right with God nevertheless."6 Adventist theology’s end result is proclaiming that all will be right with God in the end. Laughter reminds us of that — it’s an expression of hope and a tool that can help us focus on that hope when we forget.
While we are free to debate what constitutes humor and when it is appropriate, to excoriate humor and laughter itself on the basis of God’s impending judgment betrays a bleak vision of the apocalypse that has lost sight of the Savior. That vision will not inspire holiness or healthy churches. The Adventist apocalypse is different from the disaster-oriented productions Hollywood cranks out almost every year. We have grace, we have hope, we have joy, and so we have laughter.
May our apocalyptic vision include apocalaughter as we wait for the judgment that is always in the favor of God’s people (Daniel 7:22).
- Wayne Hooper, 1962.
- George Knight, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism (Silver Spring: Review and Herald, 2008), 11.
- Erik Thoennes, "Laughing Through Tears: The Redemptive Role of Humor in a Fallen World," Presbyterion Covenant Seminary Review, Fall 2007, 72–83.
- Ellen White, Counsels for the Church, p. 22.
- Theological term for the Second Coming literally meaning “presence.”
- Robert L. Short, The Parables of Peanuts (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968), 151.