Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fallon's Humor Isn't Godly Joy

He was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  I think that's pretty cool, since I was born there, too.

His wife, Nancy Juvonen, is of Finnish descent.  I think that's pretty cool, too, since I am, too.

His name is Jimmy Fallon, and while I don't watch much late night television, I've seen his stuff, and when his comedy is clean, which is a lot of the time, he's pretty funny.  He's a natural when it comes to making people laugh, and I think that's pretty cool.

But is watching him host The Tonight Show a spiritual discipline?  Zack Hoag, a pastor in Vermont, says it is for him.  Fallon's humor "restores my faith in the reality of joy, Hoag enthuses.  "And not just any joy.  A divine kind of joy."


Christianity Today's Kate Shellnutt thinks so.  She takes it as a given that "Christians need balance in our pop culture engagement," as if Christians should be spending much time engaging with pop culture at all.  And Shellnutt doesn't just love Fallon for bringing a balance of fresh fun to late night television.  She inadvertently defines her version of Biblical joy as being full of character impressions, slapstick silliness, and music parodies.

As if the joy God wishes for His children is all about character impressions, slapstick silliness, and music parodies.

It's not that Fallon isn't funny, or that his youthful vibe shouldn't be relevant to his audience.  It's not even wrong for evangelicals to try to be finding some sort of entertainment on television that isn't full of licentiousness and vulgar language.  If you want to enjoy Fallon's comedy for what it is - and according to Shellnutt, it's pretty shallow and juvenile - then staying up past a typical commuter's bedtime to watch his show probably isn't a sin.

But is it joyful in the Biblical sense?

Vermont's Hoag claims that emotional happiness, such as the enjoyment he derives from Fallon's humor, equals joy.  Hoag refutes the traditional evangelical view that joy supersedes emotion, especially when our circumstances wouldn't necessarily conjure happiness.  Amazingly, he has the chutzpah to deride Nehemiah 8:10 ("the joy of the Lord is your strength") as "a defeater statement, a kind of Jesus-juke meant to stifle any real emotions we might be feeling."

Apparently, in his family growing up, he hated it when his preacher father would exhort his children to "stop being sad/mad/bored/whatever and be JOYFUL!  After all, you have a relationship with Jesus!"

Um, and being joyful in Christ despite our circumstances is bad theology?

It seems ironic at a humanistic level, but the Bible often couples joy with trials, such as in Luke 6:22-23 and Romans 5:3-4.  That means Biblical joy should be possible despite our circumstances and natural emotions, doesn't it? 

Hoag thinks this orthodox view of joy forces us to be inauthentic liars in the face of genuine hardships, or refusing to acknowledge the good things that God provides us.  He also scoffs at the notions of God's holiness and our depravity as a reason to not be joyful, apparently failing to grasp that the reason there's joy in our juxtaposition with our Creator is that He loves us despite who we are.  We rejoice not in our depravity, but in what Christ has saved us from.

And for her part, Shellnutt insists that "we need the light of the funny, silly, and joyful to glow in the dark." 

But is the joy of the Lord comparable to what's funny and silly in life?  God's joy is about salvation, freedom from the fear of death, and resting in His sovereignty.  Yet Hoag and Shellnutt want to be content with humor?

According to Psalm 37:4, joy is delighting ourselves in the Lord.  Fallon may be funny and silly, but he's not our divine Savior.

Jonathan Edwards once said, "glorifying God is nothing else than rejoicing in God in His glory.  But if God made man to rejoice in this, then He made man to be happy."  In other words, our joy is found in God.

And yes, there is an element of our conventional definition of happiness that is a part of Biblical joy.

But is Biblical joy merely an emotional happiness?  After all, anybody can be happy - as is proven by Fallon's appreciative audience, whether they're evangelical believers or heathen unbelievers.  Sometimes, a good joke is a good joke, and people are going to laugh at anything that is genuinely funny.  But are good jokes and genuine humor legitimate substitutes for the joy God wants us to have?

And if God's joy isn't special, if anybody can see why believers are obviously "joyful" or happy, and we're basing this joy on emotions anybody else can feel, how does that testify to His perfect peace?  A peace that passes understanding?  A peace that only His people can possess?

After all, God's joy is a Fruit of the Spirit, along with things like love, peace, and patience.  And these Fruit are gifts that God gives us.  Neither the world, nor anybody in it, can give us His joy.  So if Billy Graham can't give me Godly joy, and John MacArthur can't give me Godly joy, why should we think Jimmy Fallon can?

Let's not delude ourselves into thinking that pop culture can take the place of anything God wants for us.  Fallon's revamped Tonight Show may provide a welcome breath of fresh air as far as late-night television is concerned, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that.  But should we confer upon mortals the honor and respect that we should reserve for our Creator and Redeemer?  Don't we sin when we define the joy we believers in Christ are supposed to have as something that can be obtained without a relationship with Him?

Go ahead and have a good laugh with Fallon.  But how funny will his jokes and antics be after you've seen them a few times?  Meanwhile, God's joy does not change, although it can change us to our core.  It is always available, never in re-runs, and always commercial-free.  We cannot tire of it, or not be in the mood for it.  We can't even turn it on - it happens inside of us automatically when we let God rule our heart and mind.

It may not be silly, or slapstick, but it's eternal.  It may not be as tangible as a belly laugh from one of Fallon's jokes, but it is real.

In fact, if I couldn't tell the difference between being happy because of Fallon's humor, and God's holy joy, then I'd be truly worried.

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