Question:

Hey Jeffrey,

I was reading your articles on lying and it got me to thinking about something. Is joking or teasing lying? For instance, if someone asks me what I do for a living and as a joke I say I "push semi-trucks with my hands" for a living as a joke, only then to tell them what I really do? Is that a lie?

What if I tell a story or share an anecdote about my life and don't remember all the details, and I tell it improperly. Is that a lie?

Please help. Thank you!


Answer:

Christians have to be careful about jokes because they often can be used as a cover for sin. For instance, sexual jokes are wrong because they make the Christian look as if he accepts sexual sin (Ephesians 5:3-7). Extending this idea, you should not tell jokes that make it appear that you accept sin or have committed sin.

People have been known to claim they were joking when they are caught in a lie. "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, "Was I not joking?"" (Proverbs 26:18-19). Such claims are thinly veiled attempts to avoid responsibility for destructive words. If humor harms another person, then it ceases to be funny. "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10).

Satire is a form of humor where something is stated and it is clear that the opposite is meant. Elijah's taunting of the false prophets is a form of satire when he encouraged them to cry louder, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened" (I Kings 18:27). Though Elijah said that "he is a god," he clearly means that Baal cannot be God. Or consider Paul's words: "Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold -- I speak in foolishness -- I am just as bold myself" (II Corinthians 11:16-21). Paul's lead-in makes it clear that he speaking satire. While he calls the Corinthians wise, he is clearly saying they are foolish. Their tolerance becomes a detrimental quality instead of something respectful. Perhaps you could say that these are lies because the opposite is being said, but because the opposite is clearly being communicated, no lie is actually being told.

Exaggeration is another form of humor. Consider this discussion of the Exodus and the Israelites' entrance into Canaan:

"The sea looked and fled; the Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills, like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, before the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water
" (Psalms 114:3-8).

The vividness of the exaggerated illustrations makes the discussion memorial. Or think of the conviction expressed in "All my bones will say, "LORD, who is like You, who delivers the afflicted from him who is too strong for him, and the afflicted and the needy from him who robs him?"" (Psalms 35:10). Of course bones don't talk, but the exaggeration illustrates a conviction that reaches done to the depth of a person's being. But once again, notice that we have no difficulty telling that what is being literally stated is not what is meant.

If you are organizing trucks to carry shipments, then humorously stated that you push trucks around is nothing more than odd way of truthfully stating what you do. A good example of humor is by a friend of mine, Joe Works: "If I new then what I no now my grammar would be better." Or another friend of mine, Ed Bragwell:

"Here we are half way through January. All through the holidays I could not decide what to give Ms Patsy (the woman who has everything). The first of this week I finally settled on just the right gift. She is hard to buy for because she still has all those great gifts I have given her for special occasions over the last few years and they are in great working order – things like the electric-start walk behind lawn mower, the great weed-eater, the fantastic washer and dryer, the side by side refrigerator, the wheelbarrow along with the assortment of power tools, and miscellaneous hand tools like shovels, hammers, wrenches, etc. I have tried to keep my friends informed as to what I was giving her on these occasions. Naturally, not having settled on any thing this past Christmas, I did not post any gift news. This evidently bothered some of you. I have spoken with some in person and others have sent private messages and emails worrying that Ms Patsy was left without a nice gift this year. Now, all of you can now rejoice with Ms Patsy – today I presented her with a most unusual vacuum cleaner! You should have seen her face light up!"

It takes a bit more thought, but humor doesn't have to deceive people.

When telling anecdotes, full details are not expected or wanted -- the story would be too long. It doesn't matter if you recall everything, so long as what you stated is what you remember.