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A contradiction in terms?

There are those who are persuaded it is.

Understandably so.

The question arises not only when one considers what sarcasm is (an expression of mockery) and what it is used to accomplish (to hold up the views of another for ridicule), but also when you consider that the ungodly resort to it often, especially to give their estimation of Christianity and its practitioners. “Oh my, aren’t you holy! Better than the rest of us, I suppose! Well, you hypocrites, let me tell you about some of your wonderful, Christian friends!”

And they proceed to do just that.

Sad to say, all too often those associated with the Christian faith (not excluding ourselves) have given them ammunition enough.

And now for the Christian to resort to this approach? Reservations are expressed.

Why give editorial space to this topic at this time, you ask?

First, because a Bible Study society I lead had occasion recently to discuss the issue of sarcasm in connection with the apostle’s use of it in I Corinthians 4:8. There Paul takes to task leaders in the church who were too impressed with themselves. It is sarcasm in a toned-down form, but sarcasm for all that. And I understand that the issue has been raised recently in other of our societies as well.

Second, we address the issue because over the years the use of sarcasm has not been unknown in the pages of the SB. Some have questioned its propriety.

And third, it strikes us that this time of year itself serves as an occasion to raise this topic, considering that the April 1 issue of the SB coincides with marking Good Friday (and Easter), and if there was any place where sarcasm came to the fore in the mouth of the ungodly, it was at the Cross. The Son of God was subjected to sarcasm in its most vehement and venomous form.

“He saved others [so they claim]; [and yet] himself he cannot save!” Explain that!

That from the apostate church, mockery in its bitterest form. Oh, what a ‘Savior’ indeed!

And the Roman soldiers joined in, kneeling before him with that crown of thorns on His head (sarcasm in a visual form) and with that limp reed in his hand, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” thereby killing two birds with one sarcasm, namely, the Jews, to have such an ‘exalted’ king, and the Christ Himself. Some King! My, aren’t we afraid!

So, in light of its malicious use by the ungodly, the question arises, can we as Christians make use of sarcasm? And in particular, does it have a place on our pulpits and in the gospel ministry? In our public writings? If so, what?

We are convinced it does. In fact, our perusal of Scripture has convinced us not only that sarcasm is a form of address that is allowable to a ‘man of God,’ but also that there are occasions that shout for its judicious use, use that sanctifies it, if you please.

The best known biblical example, surely, is that of Elijah the Tishbite, who on Mt. Carmel mocked the priests of Baal with biting sarcasm as they in their frenzy cried aloud and cut themselves in order to ‘get the attention’ of Baal. “Oh, Baal, hear us!”

How Elijah mocked them, saying in effect, “Can’t you shout a little louder? Have you considered that perhaps this Baal of yours is out chasing someone, or taking a vacation someplace, or maybe he has just dozed off! Idol gods have a habit of doing that, I hear. Is that all the noise you can make to wake him?” (cf. I Kings 18:26ff.).

But Elijah is not alone in the use of ‘religious sarcasm.’ Jehovah God Himself is not ‘above’ using it on occasion. One such passage is Jeremiah 22:23. “O inhabitants of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail.”

Keep in mind that the inhabitants of Lebanon referred to were Jews, members of Judah’s aristocrat class, royalty, who, to escape Jerusalem’s summer heat, were living sumptuously in the hills of Lebanon, carrying on like well-painted and sensuous women. And the poor of the nation had to support this lifestyle.

The Lord says, in effect, we will see just how gracious and attractive you feel when shortly in judgment I treat you like a woman nine months pregnant, with her feet swelled up, and I put you through convulsions like a woman racked with birth pangs. Oh, how gracious (attractive) to your band of lovers you will be then!

A passage that drips with sarcasm.

Another instance is found inZechariah 11:12, 13. There reference is made to thirty pieces of silver, an amount Israel’s priesthood carefully calculated to indicate what God’s prophet (and word) was worth to them. According to Mosaic law, the price of a slave! It foreshadowed Israel’s rejection of the coming Messiah, what Israel’s priests later would pay Judas Iscariot for betraying Christ—thirty pieces of silver.

God instructed the prophet to cast it back to them in the potter’s house (a place of broken pottery). And he adds words of sarcasm “…a goodly price that I was prised at [evaluated] of them.” A goodly price indeed—worth no more than a slave!

And as pointed out above, its use in the New Testament was not foreign to the apostles either.

Clearly, Scripture demonstrates there is such a species as ‘sanctified sarcasm.’ God Himself found occasion to use it, as did men of God.

Yet we are not suggesting that we resort to using sarcasm without great caution.

Sarcasm in the mouth of believers is to be reserved for special cases. It can easily be abused.

This is so because of the special implications of sarcasm. It implies a severe assessment of those about whom you are speaking. One is implying that one’s time is too valuable to waste any more in talking to or reasoning with these people on some matter. That is why by sarcasm one says just the opposite of what one really means.

Thus God’s word through Zechariah to Judah’s corrupt priesthood, “…a goodly price that I was prised at [evaluated at] by them!”

In the context of biblical truth (which is our concern), use of sarcasm implies one has given up trying to reason with a person in a simple, direct manner. It would be a sheer waste of time. It is not that these wise ‘fools’ do not know what the truth is or that their position is really indefensible. They do know. But they so dislike some element of truth that they would rather live in self-deception,pretending they do not ‘see it,’ than have to acknowledge that they, at least in this or that matter, are wrong after all. They are resolved to remain wedded to their deception come what may.

In other words, a basic dishonesty is involved.

By sarcasm one indicates that one sees through such men’s shameless ploy. The time for discussing certain matters of truth with them to get them to acknowledge their error has past. They have deliberately buried truth and reason.

But adding to the aggravation of it all is that these ‘wise fools’ are committed to infecting others with their deception as well, and yet all the while they profess highest esteem for the historic apostolic faith.

An example? The Federal Vision men come to mind.

We have no compunction in using scathing sarcasm when referring to the Federal Vision men as they promote their views in the name of remaining Reformed, and ‘faithful to the creeds.’ For them to claim a love for the great Reformed creeds and that all they are doing is in the interests of developing the Reformed faith, while they teach their wicked ‘justification by works doctrine’ (along with baptismal-regeneration and a losable election), is unmitigated poppy-cock.

And they know it.

And we know they know it. These are men well schooled in the creeds and the Reformers. We have no time for them. For those being led astray by these smooth-tongued deceivers, we have all kinds of time. But as for the deceivers themselves and their ilk we take the lying doctrines of their ’30 pieces of silver’ and cast them back at their feet like pieces of broken pottery. This is what their doctrines are worth.

Use of sarcasm implies, “Do not insult our intelligence. You know that what you are saying is simply misrepresentation and too ridiculous to present as truth. We will not play your game.”

Quite an indictment, you say. You are right, which is why one resorts to sarcasm in spiritual matters only when another’s ‘persisted-in dishonesty’ is transparent.

That said, it is our judgment that an important twofold restriction is to govern the use of sarcasm in and concerning Christ’s church.

The use of sarcasm in the affairs of Christ’s church is to be reserved for leaders (primarily preachers and theologians), those who in the face of knowledge willfully pervert truth and then try to convince others of their innocence and ‘good intentions.’ One refrains from its use towards those being influenced and led astray by these persuasive liars. With such we must exercise patience, seeking to persuade by reasoning based on Scripture and the creeds.

The scriptural examples referred to above demonstrate that restriction and rule. It was the leaders (priests and officebearers) that came under the guns of God’s and the apostles’ sarcasm. When it came to the misguided members of the congregations, prophets and apostles exercised great patience and restraint.

It is an axiom for officebearers that, when it comes to the members of the church, the sheep, we must never, never resort to sarcasm, no matter how exasperated we may feel. Patience must rule, with on-going instruction, in the hopes that Christ will open the eyes of the misguided and bring them around.

Once biting sarcasm has been used, there is little hope for reconciliation in the future. Use of sarcasm is a telling assessment of another’s lack of honesty and integrity.

In these days of great apostasy, theologians who are worthy objects of biting sarcasm, men willingly deaf to all reason and truth, are growing in number, sad to say.

Christ (and His truth) is, indeed, being betrayed in the house of his ‘friends.’ There comes a time when such ‘friends’ and their pious deceptions are to be treated with the contempt they deserve.

There is precedent for this is church history.

When it comes to sanctified-sarcasm (holy mockery), few could hold a pen to the Reformers, those men of God. Recently I came across this specimen from Calvin, words intended, according to Calvin, “To Impose Silence On a Certain Scoundrel Named Antoine Cathelan” (a defrocked monk responsible for stirring up trouble in a number of Protestant churches). What follows is one long sentence, abbreviated a bit:

Today many stupid dolts are so occupied with writing drivel that the learned will be ashamed to have anything published; yet only with great difficulty will one find anyone who excels a certain scoundrel named Antoine Cathelan…currently calling himself a lay priest, who nonetheless imagines he will make a name for himself…rashly spewing out all the errors that he can fabricate against us…and by getting some starving printer to corrupt the world with them for some smidgen of the booty.

“…by getting some starving printer to corrupt the world with [his errors].” What a phrase. Compared to such a ‘master,’ the best of us are but novices when it comes to sarcasm. Because we live in a different age, that is probably a good thing.

But even here, note well, Calvin was aiming his sarcasm at a would-be church leader, one who was knowingly misrepresenting the truth to mislead others. When it came to those who were being deceived and misled, Calvin was careful to use a more patient, long-suffering approach.