When I was a child, there was a Good Humor truck known for circling the neighborhood, selling ice cream, at the most ludicrous time: 5:30pm. Right before dinner. The irony of it all. The Good Humor driver seemed to taunt us with a bad joke—showing up at the very moment that every neighborhood mom was most likely to say! “No way! That will spoil your dinner!” The arrival of the Good Humor truck was not only poorly timed in those moments, but it was also poorly named as well!

Good humor in life, when rightly timed, and aptly delivered—is one of God’s good gifts to humanity. Merriam-Webster defines humor this way: “humor implies an ability to perceive the ludicrous, the comical, and the absurd in human life and to express these usually without bitterness.”[1] According to the University of Derby, in the UK, “Previous studies have suggested laughter has several physical, psychological and social benefits, including decreasing stress hormones, boosting the immune system, reducing pain, improving mood and increasing resilience. The psychological and physiological effects of laughter can increase optimism, energy and cognitive function, while decreasing anxiety, stress, loneliness, depression and tension, leading to a great deal of interest in interventions which focus on inducing laughter.”[2]

Humor and laughter have been a mainstay of my life, which I attribute to my father’s side of the family tree. Our Opdahl family gatherings always involve witty jokes, painful puns, and gut-busting belly laughs. My son Tim, who has Down syndrome, often epitomizes this same sense of humor. One Sunday, we were in the midst of a sermon series on the Gospel of John. The pastor had preached on the story about when Jesus turned the water into wine. Tim turned to me in the car on the way home, and quipped, “Remember that Jesus said, ‘My hour has not yet come?’ Well, that’s how it is with me and dating right now. My hour has not yet come!”

As a good gift, humor can be used to promote healing, help, and hope into the realities of our everyday lives. But as a good gift, in a fallen world, it can also be distorted and used to hide or to hurt. Let’s look at each of these quickly.

When Humor is Used to Hide

Most of us can identify with times when we have used humor as a means of hiding. It can be a method of avoiding vulnerability. According to Andy Crouch in his book, Strong and Weak, vulnerability is one of the key components in life that is necessary for true flourishing to take place. He defines vulnerability as “exposure to meaningful risk.”[3] When a sincere compliment is bestowed on us, but we deflect it with a joke—that is an example of avoiding the vulnerability of accepting a gift of grace. When a friend shares a painful experience, and we try to make light of it—that is an example of avoiding the vulnerability of entering into their pain. Hiding from our vulnerability has been a part of the human experience from the moment of the fall of our First Parents in The Garden. We need to learn to recognize when we are using humor to hide—and, instead, lean into our own vulnerability and be sensitive to the vulnerabilities of those around us.

When Humor is Used to Hurt

While using humor to hide is a stumbling block to our own flourishing and flourishing in relationship with others, using humor to hurt is a form of active weaponry. Again, anyone who has survived the middle school years knows this experience firsthand. Humor that hurts is often delivered in the form of sarcasm. Sarcasm, a counselor friend of mine aptly noted, is rooted in anger. And that anger burns into the wounds inflicted by humor that is used to hurt. Think: “Mean Girls.” Maybe you were one in middle school. (Maybe you still are one!) After a quick Google search of examples of sarcasm, here are several priceless examples. “I’m not insulting you. I’m just describing you.” Or this one, “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” Or how about this one, “Zombies eat brains. You’re safe.” Yep. Nothing uplifting about those remarks! They may make us laugh, but they are jokes that have a target: a human heart.

Humor, the Gospel, and the Kingdom

In this world where our fallenness can compel us to hide or to hurt, this is where the beauty of the gospel comes in. The gospel is the good news of the coming of Christ’s kingdom. His kingdom is not a domain, but the saving reign of God, pushing back the effects of the fall in every area of life. This saving reign begins, personally, by starting with a renewed relationship with God himself through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and then extends into the redemption of our relationships with self, others, and even nature. Christ’s kingdom is, at this moment in time, an “already-not-yet” kingdom. It is here in part, but will not be here in all its fullness until Christ’s return. Until then, the reign of God is at work along the spectrum of healing, help, and hope. I believe that humor can be one of God’s good, redemptive gifts in this world to aid in healing, help, and hope.

When Humor is Used to Heal

Humor can be a practical agent of healing in this life. It can be restorative. It can give back “the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25a).” Raising a son with Down syndrome has had some unique challenges over the last three decades, in addition to a myriad of blessings. In my work, Tim gives me permission to share funny stories that involve some of his antics, especially when he was younger. Many people ask me, “How in the world did you laugh when that was happening?” To which I often reply, “I wasn’t laughing when it was happening. I was crying. Or ripping my hair out. Or feeling totally frustrated.” But in the rearview mirror of life, God gives us the gift of perspective. And sometimes the cherry on top of perspective is to see the outrageous humor in a situation, in retrospect. Rearview mirror humor can be deeply healing, and it builds resilience. It reminds us that what seemed terrible in the moment, at times, has an imbedded irony or absurdity in it that is, in hindsight, well—hilarious! Of course not all challenging experiences are funny a few days later, or ever, for that matter. But the ones that are, help us to recover from what was upsetting or unsettling in that given moment.

Last week, Tim was riding up and down our gravel road, testing out his new electric bike. As he became increasingly brave, he underestimated how much time he would need to stop, locked up his brakes, and was thrown face-first into the gravel. His face, hands, and legs were badly cut up. My husband, Fred, gingerly got Tim back home. By the time I arrived, Tim was shaking all over. I cleaned and dressed all his wounds, as best I could. Later that afternoon, he lay on the table in the Urgent Care office, awaiting the stitches the doctor was preparing to put into his knee. Raising his eyebrows, he looked over at me and said, “I feel like Anakin Skywalker.” (The character in Star Wars who eventually became the evil Darth Vader, after he lost his arms and legs in a battle with the good Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi.) When I relayed this story to Fred the next day, we couldn’t stop laughing at the amount of drama Tim attributed to his injuries. We laughed because, while Tim was shaken at the time—four stitches later—he really was OK. He was, after all, not Anakin Skywalker. I am thankful to report, Darth Vader does not live among us. Humor can be healing in the rearview mirror of life.

When Humor is Used to Help

Even when humor is not restorative, it can still be helpful. Humor can be used to communicate truth in a gentle way. Reminders to not take ourselves too seriously, to realign our priorities, or to reconsider a course of action can all be helped with humor—if aptly timed and delivered with gentleness and grace. During my years as MNA Special Needs Ministries director, I traveled around the country and made international trips as well. One year, after a season of frequent flying, Tim smiled and said to me, “I know what MNA means: Mom’s Not Around!” It wasn’t meant to hurt. It was meant to help. His joke stuck with me—in a good way. It made me realize I needed to take a harder look at my schedule, and the frequency of my commitments. Humor can be used to help. It can also be used to lighten the heart, lighten the moment, or lighten the mood. Weighty as the woes of this world can be, there are times to move out of the realm of heaviness and to focus on God’s good gifts in life. And humor can help.

When Humor is Used to Hope

Finally, redemptive humor not only heals, and helps, it can be applied in order to remind us to hope. Many people with Down syndrome struggle with frequent respiratory infections. Tim is no exception to this. Several years ago, he was battling a raging round of pneumonia. We had been to the doctor, he had been prescribed medication, he was receiving treatments—but his condition remained the same. I sat next to him on the couch, encouraging him to hang on, that the medicine would eventually do its work, and that he would ultimately feel better. Bleary-eyed, he turned to me and said “It’s taking a long time. Like Jesus and the Second Coming.” Tim knows where his ultimate hope is. In Jesus. And the Second Coming—when all things will be made new. He also knows, however, that it is taking a long time. We can wait. And we can even laugh. Because we do have hope. Ultimate hope.

Honestly Assessing Our Humor

Cal Seerveld once wrote, “Tell me what a man laughs at, and without judging the heart, I’ll have a sound litmus reading on the caliber of his faith-commitment, no matter what the worldview be he says he holds.”[4] What role does humor play in our lives? Is it Good Humor? Is it redemptive? Is it a tool for communicating healing, help, and hope? Or is it a stumbling block in our relationships—used to hide, or a weapon in relationships—used to injure? May each of us ask the Lord Jesus, who—as both fully God and fully human—knows best how to use humor rightly, to aid us in examining our hearts. Where our humor hides or hurts, may his Spirit transform us into people who extend healing, hope, and help—even through humor—into the world around us.

[1], Date retrieved: 13 April 2023.

[2]“New Study Shows the Importance of Laughter in Improving Wellbeing,” 26 February 2019,, Date retrieved: 13 April 2023.

[3] Crouch, Andy. Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016), p.40.

[4] Schuurman, Peter. “Faithful Laughter: C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and Peter L. Berger on Faith and Comedy,” Sensus Divinitatis, April 22, 2020,, Date retrieved: 13 April 2023.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Stephanie Hubach

Stephanie O. Hubach is a Research Fellow in Disability Ministries in affiliation with Covenant Theological Seminary. From 2007-2016 she served as the Founding Director of Mission to North America’s Special Needs Ministries (Presbyterian Church in America). She is also a founding member of the Lancaster Christian Council on Disability (LCCD). Steph is the author of Parenting & Disabilities: Abiding in God’s Presence (P&R Publishing, 2021), Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability (P&R Publishing, 2006, Revised & Expanded Edition 2020), and All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Disability Ministry (Joni and Friends, 2007). She has been published in ByFaith magazine, Focus on the Family magazine, and Breakpoint online magazine and produced a Christian Education DVD series based on Same Lake, Different Boat. Steph and her husband have two deeply loved sons, the younger of whom has Down syndrome. For further information on her work, go to