The Comic Christ—Our Audacity of Hope


It’s common knowledge that what we know of as comedy today is derived from the works of the ancient comic playwright, Aristophanes… Ok, perhaps it’s not common knowledge… Anyway, what we know of as comedy today is derived from the works of the ancient comic playwright, Aristophanes. A contemporary of Socrates (and partially to blame for Socrates’ execution), Aristophanes blazed the trail for the great comedians that would follow. While the genre of comedy when understood in the classical sense certainly is not restricted to humor, wit, and belly-laughter-inducing dialogues, Aristophanes’ comedy has all of those elements. To put it simply, Aristophanes is really funny. He is funny, yet deathly serious (just ask Socrates), in his cultural criticisms and cultural agenda, as all good comedy should be. This is why the politically correct comedy of modern late-night television is no longer funny.[1]

Aristophanes’ play “Peace” is an excellent example of his cultural critique. The Greek city-states are cannibalizing each other through ceaseless war. In his play the gods have all given up on the Greeks and have even abandoned Mt. Olympus. The comic hero Trygaeus, weary of the war, decides to ride a giant beetle up to Mt. Olympus to confront the gods for allowing such division and hatred to continue among the Greeks. Upon arrival he is surprised, of course, to find all the gods are gone and only Hermes, the “messenger of the gods”, has remained behind, apparently as a deified answering machine.

Trygaeus though sets the paradigm for what will come to mark the comic hero throughout history. We see in the “Peace” that the comic hero is marked by Audacity. Meriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives the following two definitions of Audacity for its first two entries: “a. intrepid boldness” and “b. bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints”.[2] As can be seen from the dictionary entries, we don’t really know what to do with Audacity. In some sense it seems praise-worthy, but in another sense it seems arrogant and rude. It hovers somewhere in the realm of naivety and ignorance; in the realm of foolishness and courage. Often these things are hard to distinguish as observers of others and of ourselves. We might ask ourselves if we are stepping out in faith or merely being foolish. I know I have asked myself that many times, especially as we have moved from Texas to Kentucky, then from Kentucky back to Texas, then from Texas to Kansas.[3]

But heroes are marked by Audacity. Trygaeus has the Audacity to mount a giant beetle to confront the gods. Does he not know that the gods will not care what a mere human like him thinks? Does he not know that you cannot actually mount upon beetles but instead should recruit the mythic Pegasus? Does he not know that war is merely a part of the human existence and nothing can be done about it? He does not seem to know the “right” answers to any of these questions, thus instead of accepting the world for “what it is”, he has the audacity to do what no one else is willing to do.

We also see Trygaeus’ Audacity in his interaction with Hermes:

Hermes: Wretch! You shall die!

Trygaeus: When it’s my lot, of course, For being Hermes you’ll use lots, I know.

Hermes: O you are doomed! Doomed! Doomed!

Trygaeus: Yes? For what day?

Hermes: This very instant.

Trygaeus: But I’m not prepared: I’ve bought no bread and cheese, as if to die.

Hermes: Ah, well, you’re absolutely gone!

Trygaeus: That’s odd. To get such famous luck and yet not know it.[4]

The Olympian god threatens Trygaeus with certain doom and Trygaeus responds with wit. That takes Audacity. That is an Audacity that I want to have as a Christian in the face of peril. I wonder some times how I would respond in similar situations. I wonder why I respond with such anxiety and fear over the smallest of threats.

But King Solomon calls us to live with such Audacity in Proverbs 3. Audacity is found in Wisdom. Wisdom Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the truly Audacious Comic Hero. As God Himself, He condescended Himself in becoming man, suffering a mundane life, scorn, and death—even death on a cross. He had the Audacity then to descend into Hades to proclaim liberty to the captives, before resurrecting to new life and ascending to be with His Father again. The true comic ending though will take place at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when all things are consummated and made new. But this is possible because of Audacity—to steal President Obama’s book title—the Audacity of Hope. It is this Audacity that believes that if the Father did not spare His own Son for us all, how will He not also graciously give us all things (Romans 8.32)? It is this Audacity that allows us to say with the Apostle Peter, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29). It is this Audacity that hopes in a city that we cannot see, so that we might choose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11.10, 25).

King Solomon tells us to have Audacity. He says, “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence…” (Prov. 3.25-26a) The world looks at this and calls it foolishness, but as followers of Christ we can read this and laugh. Not a laughter of ridicule, mockery, or condescension, but the laughter of those who know True Comedy—the laughter of those who know that all comedies end the same way, in a wedding—the laughter of those who know that God is true to His Word, and He will have the final word when the dust settles on the cosmic battleground. As classical Christian educators we must remember that earthly rhetoric is not the goal of education, but rather the Rhetoric that has been redeemed in Wisdom—by Christ Himself.

[1] See Steve Turley’s YouTube video “Ratings for Late Night Liberals are Imploding!”

[2] “Audacity.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2018.

[3] It should be noted that I have lived in all of the States in the US that start with the letter “K”.

[4] Aristophanes and B.B. Rogers. The Complete Plays of Aristophanes. “Birds”. Ed. by Moses Hadas and trans. by B.B. Rogers. (New York: Random House, 2006), 227.

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