Should Christians ever mock anyone? Let’s talk seriously for a moment on the topic of Christian ridicule, whether it exists, and what it entails if it ever is appropriate.
Recently while I was leading a half-dozen or so middle schoolers in discussion for our youth group, an unexpected question came up about whether God laughs at people when they’re being foolish. All girls except just one boy in my group – all gave me either crinkled noses or else blank stares when I suggested that the Lord does indeed.
To prove it to them, I had to turn their attention to Psalm 2:4. There we read the following gem.
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”
Here it is, then. The nations, peoples, kings, rulers – all rage, plot, set themselves, and take counsel together against their Maker. And how does the Most High respond? How does the Holy One reply?
He laughs at them. And then he speaks angry words to them.
Now a caution is worth both saying and hearing. Just because God speaks angrily to the ungodly, and laughs at them, that does not mean we are quite so safe to. And by this I don’t just mean that we have cause to fear for our physical safety – though that is a consideration. What I mean more is that we need to take care to be slow to get angry like James the half-brother of Jesus talks about, “for the anger of man does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Our anger is not categorically as trustworthy as God’s. And this is because none of our faculties are, plus we have a sinful nature to contend with which the Holy One does not to even the smallest degree.
But what James said about listening, speaking, and anger is curious. It could be stated more directly, but it feels like a certain measure of reading between the lines is necessary to take the meaning. The anger of man does not bring about the righteous life God desires – so if we’re talking about emotions, can other emotions more readily assist?
In any event, it’s a curious thing that the psalmist tells us God laughs before responding angrily to those who rebel against Him. And maybe that is the order of operations. A ridiculous thing is done by wicked, foolish men. Then comes the mocking. Then comes the wrath.
But supposing we should not be so quick to imitate God in His anger – righteous indignation, I’ve often heard it called. There is some dispute over whether mockery either by Christians is ever appropriate. Suffice to say the Babylon Bee crowd has made their position known. But so also, there are plenty of quieter voices in the Church who grimace at the idea that we would ever make fun of sin and folly, however absurd.
Their position is that such is neither loving nor respectful. Aren’t we supposed to always be ready to give an answer with gentleness and respect? And aren’t we warned repeatedly in the Scriptures against scoffing?
On the former point, it’s worth noting that we are told to be ready to answer those asking us for the reason of the hope within us with gentleness and respect. Yet on this point, such folks are seldom to never in the same category as those who could more rightly be classified as the dogs and swine to whom we are not give neither our pearls nor what is holy.
At a minimum, then, it is safe to say we ought never to mock simple, innocent questions about our faith from those who are on the outside looking in, nor from those who are newcomers to the faith. If they come to us wanting to know more about our Savior, we should not put them down or make jokes at their expense. That much is clear to me. Rather, we should be kind and patient, and clear as well, as we state plainly who Christ is and why we love and trust him.
On the former point – concerning scoffing – it would seem the subject of ridicule makes at least some difference. If you ridicule truth, beauty, and goodness, then at least you are a scoffer. If you are mocking falsehood, ugliness, and evil, though, that is either not problematic at all, or else it is by degrees a better thing, or at lest not as bad or worse, even if it is still debatable whether it is the best thing.
But what about the dogs? And what about the swine? Jesus says to not give them our pearls or what is holy. In order to obey him here, we have to know who the pigs and canines are. And if he called them such, and was tempted in all ways as we are yet without sin, will it be said that we are sinning if we agree with him on our way?
Imagine I sent my sons on an errand through the woods, and told them to watch out for wolves in sheep clothes – a rather amusing word picture, really. It would hardly do if they nodded agreeably while I was with them, then as soon as they got out of earshot turned to one another in confusion.
‘What’s a wolf?’
Then a shrug.
‘I don’t know!’
This is the way many Christians most squeamish about satire and mockery carry on when one of our number gets a bit more candid than the rest. Jesus can say that there are, generally speaking, broods of vipers and wolves in sheep-clothes, plus swine and doggos. He was even fairly free and unfettered in identifying the Pharisees and other teachers of the Law as being of their types. But if we in our day start to get more specific talking about who they might be in our context, that is treated as a travesty.
Yet how can we do as Jesus tells us to with regards to these types of people if we never under any circumstances dare to point them out? For that matter, what is the appropriate response to such brute beasts when we encounter them if it does not include at least some dose of sarcasm and mocking to counteract their pride and vanity?
The swine and dogs are not, I would reiterate, in the same category as those who would come to us sincerely asking questions about the gospel, earnestly desiring to know more about what they must do to be saved. But what does Peter say about them in one of his New Testament letters?
“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.”
These are hard words. They’re not very nice, per se. Never will you ever find a best-selling book in the Christian Non-Fiction section of your nearest Lifeway titled ‘Irrational Animals’ or ‘Blots and Blemishes.’ And you can rest fairly assured that neither K-Love nor Veggie Tales will ever go here.
But is it possible that we have become too nice? In earnestly desiring to be kind, loving, gentle, compassionate – all good qualities, to be sure – are our definitions of these real and godly Christian virtues perhaps too one-sided?
Perhaps you miss my meaning, or perhaps I ask amiss. What I mean is that I suspect we have been taken captive by an overly austere and extreme adherence to niceness. And I wonder if thereby we would rebuke Jesus and Peter and Paul if they came into our local churches and Christian publishing houses saying the sorts of things they say in our Bible.
Or what else can we call what Paul writes to the Galatians except for mockery?
“I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”
Here the apostle is talking about the circumcision party which tells Gentile converts their men cannot be embraced as true brothers unless they follow the Law in addition to believing the gospel Paul and Barnabas preached to them, by which they have both already been saved and are being.
Yet there are so many far nicer ways he could have said it! Paul surely could have stopped short of the bit about castration. What if these Judaizers are themselves brothers in Christ? And what if they are truth-seekers? He may have just deeply offended them to the point of division, and surely it would have been better to not burn those bridges – or at least that is the mindset of our nicest brothers and sisters.
Paul’s was a cutting remark in Galatians 5:12, to be sure. But as I reckon, what he was getting at must surely have been to some good and godly purpose. Furthermore, there is a precedent in the example set by Christ himself.
“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
What immediately preceded this holy outburst, I would remind you, was that Jesus had been speaking when a Pharisee asked to have dinner with him. But when Jesus did not wash before dinner, instead jumping immediately into eating, “the Pharisee was astonished.”
Clearly, events had been building up to this moment. This was a long time coming.
Yet a word of caution lest we perhaps would strive to be holier than the Lord: the conventional wisdom in polite Christian circles today regarding mockery might at times be striving to give the Pharisees a run for their money. Or what else are we to make of it if the standard of personal holiness and good conduct set by Jesus, Peter, and Paul in the New Testament is lost on us?
Do some of us at first laugh, then immediately groan and grimace when a joke is made about Joel Osteen being a con artist or Tim Keller being a communist? If so, I dare say the former response may be godlier and the latter more deserving an apology and repentance. At a minimum, the possibility is worth considering.
In conclusion, it would seem to me that the answer to the question of whether Christians should ever mock anyone is in the affirmative, but also that it depends. There is a time and season for everything under heaven, as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. As with so much else, context is king, our motives are critically important, and we should take care at a minimum to never ridicule what God says is right and proper, and to never engage in mockery when such would likely push others farther away from what is true, beautiful, and good.
As for those things that are false, ugly, and evil, though? It certainly does seem to me like the joke’s on them, at least from God’s perspective. For that matter, concerning tactics, I reason that a well-timed joke might at times just break tension rather than allowing it to continue building. Taken in that light, then, humor can sometimes serve to help not only us but those around us in being slow to anger. And when such is the case, perhaps we do well to not let go of this valuable rhetorical and relational device we know as mockery, even if we must take care in how and when we use it.
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