I love a good joke. If you were to ask one of my college classes they may argue over the word “good” since I tend to tell jokes that are pretty corny, but still, laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whether it’s a witty play on words or a creative pun or even just an unexpected twist in a story, finding humor in life’s everyday circumstances is something that has served me well over the years. The Bible seems to support this proclivity. After all, Proverbs 17:22a tells us that “a joyful heart is good medicine.”
Recently, I was reminded of a very important truth about humor, though. As I read the story of the NFL replacement referee who notoriously missed a crucial call, I realized how critical it was that we remember the person behind the punchline. After the game, the skewering of this particular official was severe. All the pundits, late night talk show hosts, and armchair quarterbacks may not have given a second thought to the impact of the critique they were making, but the impact was significant. The referee ended up suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of being the target of so much criticism. His infamy destroyed his life.
This is an extreme case to be sure, but often times there are lessons to be learned from the extremes. Everyone we tease may not end up seeking professional help, but there is at least the possibility that one of them may. Words matter. If you doubt that, think back upon your childhood. If you are like most people you can remember at least one hurtful word that was seemingly spoken in “jest.” The fact that you still recall it all these years later demonstrates the impact it made.
This is why, all these years later, I have grown to really appreciate the punishment my dad meted out when I rashly pulled a prank on my sister. My defense for my seemingly innocent act was that I was “just joking.” My dad required me to memorize Proverbs 26:18-19 which taught me that not only was that defense useless, but that what seems like “jokes” to us, are not viewed the same from Heaven. God doesn’t appreciate deceit, but He does applaud love. As we approach life, may our humor reflect the same.