Laughing at Suffering

16 08 2011

I’ve been talking recently about humor.

Today I want to share a thought that I’ve had several times, but I don’t really know what to do with it.  It’s about a face that is burned in my memory.

Maybe you remember it too.  It’s from the powerful and horrifying scene in the movie, The Passion of the Christ where Jesus is whipped.

Ugh.  So horrible.  Something about watching the Roman soldiers laugh while they flayed Jesus alive made the whole thing that much more horrifying.

Remembering this moment of the film makes me wonder: What is it that could make a person laugh at this kind of torture?  Surely the inclusion of this man’s laughter in the film isn’t just Mel Gibson’s way of exaggerating the horror of what happened to Jesus: Because Scripture tells us clearly that Jesus was mocked, laughed at, beaten, and spit upon by guards and soldiers.  And even apart from Scripture, we all know that this sort of thing really happens.  We know that Gladiator battles and public executions have been popular forms of entertainment throughout history.

Are We Any Different?

"I was there when they crucified my Lord / I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword."

We modern westerners have reason for indulging in the hope that we are “different” than such “barbaric” societies.  I’m glad that our society doesn’t commonly use human suffering as a form of entertainment.

But when I think about some of the things I do let myself be entertained by, I wonder if I’m not all that different from that Roman soldier.  Take a look again at the instances of degradation in the movie “The Hangover” that I cited in my last few blog posts.  If I allow myself to be entertained by the degradation of another human being—even mild degradation—then the difference between me and that Roman soldier is only a difference of degree, not a difference of type.  I’m a little evil and the Roman soldier is a lot evil; but what’s the difference?  We both have evil in us!

This, in particular, is what scares me about humor.  If I were given God’s eyes for a moment to look back on the last week of my life, how many times would I see myself laughing at Jesus in the midst of his suffering?

“Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)

“Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

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5 responses

16 08 2011

I think in addition to treating suffering as a form of entertainment (which, as you point out, persists in our society even if it’s not as blatant what took place in the gladiatorial ring), a related problem is that “it was just a joke!” is so often and easily used to excuse behavior that is wrong. C.S. Lewis had the devil say this in the Screwtape Letters: “Humor is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame (…) almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.” Humor is such an important and wonderful part of life, but it does scare me how high it can get elevated as a basis for evaluating conduct.

18 08 2011
Tim Courtois

Agreed. I’m humbled by your comments Kathleen… I’m so guilty of this very thing. Telling “jokes” that are much more mean than they are funny. May God increase my sensitivity to their meanness…

23 08 2011

Oh, same here. It is something that I struggle with. I think that’s why I’ve especially enjoyed your posts on this topic. Laughter and jokes can be so wonderful and refreshing so I really appreciate your perspective that there is great glory and goodness to be found here, that we can take joy in. But that it is also important to work at being sensitive and attuned to the dangers, and remembering that loving & serving, & the dignity of people is of higher value than a laugh. Thanks again so much for exploring this area.

5 09 2011

” If I were given God’s eyes for a moment to look back on the last week of my life, how many times would I see myself laughing at Jesus in the midst of his suffering?”

Gives me the chills…

2 07 2012

Jesus que é Jim Caviezel apanhou até derramar sangue

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