Funny. Not funny.
I was in Haiti for maybe my sixth trip, all of which had been uneventful, safe and productive (albeit hot). We were traveling in caravan to Arcahaie, a town I had been through many times on our way to our hotel, food, and bed. Suddenly, a roadblock loomed ahead and our driver stopped, got out of the car, and started talking rapidly in Creole. The rest of us simply waited, at least until we noticed that the man standing next to the van had a gun. That changed everything.
In an attempt to be humorous (which fell totally flat), I said, “Well, if we’re going to go through some kind of multi-day drama, I’m really sorry I’m wearing a skirt.”
Nonplussed, the man next to me, Mark, replied, “You know, Paul says the best thing that could happen here is that we’d die.”
Gallows humor for sure.
A recent study found that the more intelligent a person was, the more likely they were to appreciate gallows, or dark humor. The study, led by Ulrike Willinger at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria and reported in the journal Cognitive Processing theorized that those who appreciated dark humor tended to have the ability to process information at a higher rate, peeling back the layers of meaning successfully.
The study defined dark humor as “a kind of humor that treats sinister subjects like death, disease, deformity, handicap or warfare with bitter amusement and presents such tragic, distressing or morbid topics in humorous terms.”
It seems that this kind of humor takes more thought to process, more grey matter to “get.” Just one more way in which we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,” I think.
But back to Haiti.
Although this event eventually did evolve into my “multi-day drama,” and part of it included my skirted self getting eaten alive by mosquitoes … and standing at the square in Arcahaie on a busy Saturday night (quite an experience, I assure you), the humor part was probably lost on me at the time.
Although sometimes we can joke about it, there’s still a core of concern in that dark humor about our difficult situation. I think it’s more to the point to consider how – even when all seems dark, even when humor is black – God is still there.
We are called to trust. All else pales in comparison.
It seems simplistic, but over and over again in the Bible, God says, “Do not be afraid.” Over and over again, the God of the universe assures us He is there:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
“Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” (Mark 5:36)
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38-39)
All joking aside, the truly intelligent person has learned to rely on the word of God to get them through the tough times. Humor may be great, and it may take intelligence to understand, but it is God who is in control. Learning to lean on Him, to take Him at His word that He is with you, walking daily with Him, leaning on Him for protection and help – that’s what’s truly amazing and helpful when the world is crazy.
Occasionally I relive in my mind (yes, some could call that PTSD) the incident at the Haitian roadblock. But I also remember how, in the midst of all that, God was present. We were not alone. The next day or so were uncomfortable, but not deadly, scary but not dangerous. God protected us in amazing ways. We certainly didn't die.
No matter how intelligent we are, no matter how tongue-in-cheek our humor may be, it’s irrelevant in the face of trouble. In difficult times, humor and intelligence may help, but it’s only in leaning on God that we can truly make it through.