Skip to main content

Humor and God the prankster

In college, I was a rebel without a cause, forever pulling pranks. Me and my buddies are now leaders in society, but back at Wheaton College, we were the bane of dean Sam Shellhammer’s existence. We were a scrubbed-up, barely Christian version of the Animal House gang – not happy with the existin…
By Seth Barnes

In college, I was a rebel without a cause, forever pulling pranks. Me and my buddies are now leaders in society, but back at Wheaton College, we were the bane of dean Sam Shellhammer’s existence. We were a scrubbed-up, barely Christian version of the Animal House gang – not happy with the existing order, and therefore committed to tweaking it, pushing the line at all times to see how far we could go without getting kicked out (it’s a part of me that my kids especially love – they always want to hear my stories from those capricious years).

We particularly despised honors chapel. That’s where a few geniuses get a bunch of awards and everybody else feels like a dufus. I don’t know if you had them where you went to school, but if you did, you know what I mean. The administration intends it to be an honoring thing, but the main message it sends to everyone assembled, is “you may think you’re smart, but you weren’t quite smart enough.”

My buddies and I saw honors chapel for what it was and felt the need to lighten things up a bit for the 99% of dufuses not being honored. So, during the 1979 honors chapel, we and our friends had a variety of wholesome diversions planned. We arranged for a pig to come on stage as President Armerding was handing out medals and scrolls.

Another team had hidden mice in cages with timing devices in the ceiling lights, tying little parachutes to them. They were to come floating down on unsuspecting coeds. Also, I believe there was a duck to be set loose from the balcony. And a team of us (wearing masks) stripped Bob Boyle, a newly engaged friend, to his underwear, painted him blue, tied him to a stretcher, and burst thru the doors and down the aisle, depositing him at the front before dashing out.

I’m sure I’ve just appalled the parents reading this and given ideas to their kids. What an irony that prankster-in-chief friend Dave Iglesias (get his new book – sure to be best seller) and I have joined the establishment. The issue was that we’d been shown a version of Christianity that was a straight jacket and that we had to be boring. We didn’t believe either of those things. Be respectable. Build a career. Settle down, we were told.

All of this chicanery begs a broader question – if God has a sense of humor, where do we see it? I think humor is his invention, just like beauty, and laughter and tears. So if he made it, God has got to have a really great sense of humor.

We see it in creation, in the preposterous dung beetle that World Racer Sara Burrows described in this way: “they push huge balls of, well, dung that are 4 or 5 times the size of their bodies using their back legs to create a circus-worthy handstand stunt. Seriously though, any bug that literally hoards crap must have some ecological purpose that is out of my knowledge base.”

We see it in the Bible in sometimes subtle, but unmistakably humorous anecdotes (the conversation between the insufferable King Ahab and the prophet Micaiah in 2 Chron. 18 is my personal favorite).

And then we see it in some of the apparent miracles that God does. In the movie The Finger of God, (previously discussed in this blog), God apparently puts gold teeth in a bunch of people’s mouths. Flawless gemstones appear randomly during a worship service, and gold dust appears on people who have been konked out in the Spirit. If you figure that the people aren’t in fact lying, the randomness of it all sure leaves you scratching your head. A woman in a wheelchair isn’t healed, but she does get a gold tooth – what is going on with that?!

Then there’s the elderly man who is overcome, falls backward, and has gold dust appear in a small pile on his pants. Either there is someone trying to help God out, or God is a prankster. Not only are his ways not my ways, but he apparently must positively delight in tweaking my credulity, just as I might dangle a string before my cat and let him paw at it.

I can’t draw any firm theological conclusions here, but I like the idea of God as prankster. Who knows, being a prankster myself, maybe that’s just me being created in his image. At the end of the day, I like what Frederick Buechner said: “Theology is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.”

Comments (8)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *