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28 March 2010 (Rishon/Pesach)
Day #13, 5934 AM
Sarcasm
A Scriptural Analysis
and Personal Conclusion

I have to admit that I have always had a gut revulsion against sarcasm and have little respect for those who use it indiscriminately. However, I have tried to keep an open mind about this subject and to let scripture speak on it as well. As I have been thinking about this topic for some time now, I felt it was time to come to a properly researched and informed conclusion, and take a public position.

The question we have to answer is this: Is it a sin?

First we need to know what we're talking about. My dictionary defines sarcasm as "mocking or ironic language intended to convey scorn or insult". In popular culture it is commonly referred to as "the lowest form of humour".

Recent research at the University of Haifa, Israel, concludes that "sarcasm is a complex high order skill needing an ability to understand other peoples' state of mind and emotions. It is low because it targets chiefly the sensitive, inarticulate, unsophisticated or powerless."

One member of the public agrees: "Sarcasm is generally negative, and tends to hurt, which places it on the lowest rung of the humour ladder". Another adds: "Sarcasm is scornful, contemptuous and taunting, hence it is rightfully the lowest form of wit". And another: "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit since its aim is to belittle or hurt someone, and to laugh at their expense; we associate the word "cutting" with it". Finally: "Sarcasm is said to be a low form of humour as its intent is generally to get laughs at someone else's expense. The pointed humour may not be funny to the victim but its funny to those who understand the barb as it feeds their intellectual egos. This is because sarcasm is a form of humour that is known to require the highest functions of our brains. Areas of the brain that decipher sarcasm and irony also process language, recognise emotions and help understand social cues. Sarcasm is related to our ability to understand other people's mental state so it's not just a linguistic form, it's also related to social cognition".

Though there were exceptions, I found that the public was basically in agreement. Sarcasm is antisocial. So I was hugely surprised when I found some Christians defending it, and mostly of the Puritan persuasion. I have heard ministers use sarcasm and mockery and in my experience it usually drives people away, neither leading them to repentance nor building them up.

I did find an example where Paul resorts to sarcasm but he does it in a rather special and clever way:

    "You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us -- and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that Elohim (God) has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Messiah's sake, but you are wise in Messiah! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!" (1 Cor.4:8-10, NKJV)

His target is pompous and proud people in the Corinthian congregation. Moreover, as an apostle in a place of headship rebuking sin, he had the authority to do so. Spurgeon seemed to agree with him:

    "Men are perishing, and if it be unpolite to tell them so, it can only be so where the devil is the master of the ceremonies. Out upon your soul-destroying politeness; the Lord give us a little honest love to souls, and this superficial gentility will soon vanish. I could with considerable refreshment to myself pour sarcasm after sarcasm upon religious cowardice. I would cheerfully sharpen my knife and dash it into the heart of this mean vice. There is nothing to be said in its favour. It is not even humble; it is only pride of too beggarly a sort to own itself."

This can hardly be argued against. The danger comes, though, when you take it upon yourself to be Yahweh's mouthpiece and what drives you is hate and not love, or some other negative emotion that finds no correspondence with the fruits of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). A soul applying sarcasm without a clear anointing can do a great deal of damage to another and consequently this is a device to be used sparingly and with discretion. I myself have seen altogether far too many people badly hurt by sarcasm when what was needed was a loving and uplifting word. And I have observed that this is a favourite device of the demoness Hecate (and on occasion, Lilith) who use their hosts to great effect to trample on the feelings of others in order to deprive them of self-confidence and crush their sense of self-worth.

In other words, it may be said that there is a place for sarcasm on occasion, but that its positive use requires great discernment and maturity. Did Yah'shua use sarcasm? Definitely, but only against the worst religious offenders whose hearts were full of the murder that they at length aimed at Him to send Him to the Cross:

    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matt.23:23-25, NKJV).

These remarks were aimed at those who were unrepentant and hell-bound, a discernment ability I think few if any of us possess. Similarly, passages in Psalms about laughing at your enemies and having them in derision should be seen within a similar context. The image of Christianity presented in the Psalms is one both of praise to Yahweh for preserving the lives of His set-apart ones and of prayers to Yahweh to cut off evildoers and judge the wicked (e.g. Ps.52:6-9). But such passages as this show that although we are certainly to love our enemies and pray for their salvation, we must also remember that it is Yahweh who casts down those who strengthen themselves in wickedness, and preserves as an olive tree those who fear Him. And the revelation of this antithesis between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman can at times be found in somewhat biting laughter and mockery.

Joshua Clark expresses this view:

    "Often Christians get so caught up in restraining themselves from hating their enemies that they end up thinking it is entirely unrighteous to show disdain for them or to mock them. But we find that the Bible is not devoid of ridicule for the fools, and that Christ Himself spread it rather thick on the Pharisees. In our attempts to understand how best to confront those we disagree with, we must never disregard the pattern of Scripture, as this will always lead to futility.

    "So we see then that sarcasm can be used righteously, but we must define the goal of sarcasm if we are to avoid the more invidious uses that hinder Christian truth. The goal of satire, as with all forms of rebuke, should be to save a person from error. As James 5:20 (KJV) says, “He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” Rebuke in any form is a very gracious act when done with concern for the soul of the man in error.

    "Mockery should not be the form of rebuke in every situation, however. In Galatians 1:1 (KJV), Paul says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” Never should the usage of sarcasm in the Bible be interpreted to support immediate harshness whenever a brother errs; rather, the emphasis should first be placed on a private rebuke, as this is the first step in the Matthew 18 process.

    "Yet sometimes mockery is appropriate. Once a person has spurned rebuke, and especially when other Christians are falling into this person’s error, open ridicule may be an appropriate way to call them back to truth. And when the object of the ridicule is the heathen and the workers of iniquity, then mockery is definitely appropriate, as they don’t even share the privilege of brotherhood in Christ. These are the people David and Christ were reproving and mocking. Regarding church discipline, 1 Timothy 5:20 (KJV) reads, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” And this should also be the heart of any appropriate satire; that others also may fear."

He concludes:

    "So we find that there is no cookie-cutter approach to determining propriety in satire. At times it seems best to just let an error be, or to go privately to the straying brother. But at other times the shrewdest approach appears to be a public ridicule of a person’s doctrine so that others are not led astray. In order to make this judgment of suitable action, we must have a firm grasp of the basic principles and purpose of satire and then let wisdom guide our actions. If we try to lay things out unilaterally, cut and dry, then we will inevitably hurt somebody since situations are more variable than that. But if we rely on wisdom, we can have assurance that our form of rebuke will be fitting for the occasion.

    "In summary, we must remember that Christianity is not so limp-wristed as to avoid all mockery of wrong positions, as the examples in Scripture show that this is allowable at least in some circumstances. But we must also remember that the purpose of mockery should always be to point out error, and when mockery is causing undue offense or further entrenching a person in their error, it should be pulled back. We must constantly keep in mind that satire, when wrongly used, can be a divisive blade, cutting brethren to pieces where a simple rebuke would have been admonishment enough; but when rightly used, satire can be an exposing light, revealing error and exhorting to repentance.

    "So let us use satire with wisdom, and pray for such unity in the faith that satire will become entirely unnecessary."

I agree. However, in my experience, there are not many able to use godly forms of sarcasm with wisdom these days, it is all too easy to slip into the demonic counterfeit, and when that happens, considerable damage can be done to the one being subjected to sarcastic remarks. Someone who is unable to control their tongue, or who resorts to sarcasm reflexly, or to demean someone spitefully, almost certainly shouldn't be using it. It is often used to hide sin and to exercise unrighteous authority over another. So yes, sarcasm can be a sin. If it is used to make us feel bad, it is almost certainly wrong - it should, if used in the way Yahweh intends it to be used, fill us with pain for the one we have to rebuke and never give us glee. Be sure that genuine love is the motivation for its use and not some reflexive anger born of some personal issue.

Therefore, if in in any sort of doubt, abstain from it completely. Personally, I would rather stay away from it and resort to it only in exceptional circumstances, and then only when moved to do so by the Ruach (Spirit). It is always easier to knock someone down than to build him up so seek the harder way of self-discipline and self-control. I won't let my children use it (because I think it is disrespectful, vulgar and coarse) and counsel them to occupy the higher ground. I don't think it is very lady-like either. I would also counsel adults to do the same and be very careful if and when they do, to make absolutely sure it is Yah'shua telling them to speak that way and not the flesh expressing a demonic mindset. Those who were habitually sarcastic before they were saved should take extra care and resit the urge. Better instead to follow the Ruach Formula:

    "...the fruit of the Ruach (Spirit) is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Gal.5:22-23; NKJV).

Grace and peace to you all.

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This page was created on 27 March 2010
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