Human beings love to laugh. It’s part of our nature and one way we enjoy interactions with other people. Even animals tease and play with each other. Pranks and practical jokes take teasing to another level. In a prank, one person is unaware of the joke until he or she becomes the brunt of it. People who have no problem laughing at themselves can enjoy being pranked. But there are some who may be embarrassed or consider pranking to be cruel. So one factor in deciding whether to play pranks or practical jokes is the situation and the person who will be the focus of the prank.
Of course, any prank that causes harm to someone is off-limits for a Christian. The Bible has some practical wisdom about how far to take a prank or practical joke: “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18–19). Pranks and jokes can sometimes camouflage cruelty, deception, or revenge. Passive-aggression is a term used to describe an action taken by someone who wishes to retaliate against another but won’t do so openly. Subtle, barbed jabs that are said with a smile are a form of passive-aggression. Pranks and practical jokes can also be a form of aggression toward someone under the guise of “joking.” When the victim does not respond with laughter, he or she is then shamed for “not being a good sport.” When retaliation or hurt is the motivation for a joke or prank, then a Christian is taking the matter out of God’s hands and trying to exact revenge through passive-aggressive means (see Hebrews 10:30). In those instances, it would be wrong to play a practical joke on someone.
Other times, pranks can go horribly wrong. An ill-timed prank or unplanned circumstances can turn a funny joke into a disaster. In order to plan an elaborate practical joke, the instigators count upon many outside factors over which they have little control. Planning a prank requires certain elements to work perfectly in order for the joke to work, and often one or more of those elements misfires. Or the person who was supposed to find the joke hilarious instead takes offense, and relationships are ruined. Before a prank is attempted, those behind it must be certain of its reception.
We can put Jesus’ words into practice when deciding whether or not to play a practical joke: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Before planning a prank, we should take that wisdom a step further and ask ourselves, “Would I appreciate this prank if I were in their circumstances, with their personality, and their sensitivities?” When we focus on loving people as we love ourselves, we can make wiser decisions about whether to play a prank or practical joke on someone else (Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:10).