I recently held a conversation with a few Christians who sharply disagreed that mocking an unbeliever can ever be fruitful. Their argument: it tarnishes our witness for Christ and does nothing to change the perception the world has that Christians are jerks. While on the surface, the goal is commendable and I don’t entirely disagree with their premise, it truthfully doesn’t take into account that sometimes, the most Christian thing a person can do is mock someone or something. Nor does it take into account the whole of the Bible’s witness on the matter.
More often than not, mocking, scoffing, jeering, etc., is painted in a negative light within the Scriptures (Ps. 1:1). However, the key part of these negative examples is bound within the object of their ridicule, as well as the manner in which they do so. What prevails in the scoffer’s arsenal is simply the mockery of God and what He has said is good. Thusly, it is a shame to the foolish who mock God outright in their flagrant sin (Pro. 14:9; Ps. 119:51; Gal. 6:7); or additionally as they mock the poor and thereby, ridicule their Maker (Pro. 14:31, 17:5); or when they gloat as an enemy or brother falls (Pro. 24:17; Ob. 1:12).
Yet in the same breath, there are numerous examples within the Scriptures that depict the usage of mockery and satire against these very same people. The mocker or scoffer delights himself in his scoffing, as they spurn wisdom and hate knowledge (Pro. 1:22). They refuse repentance and as a result, lady wisdom mocks them in the day of their calamity; she laughs at the evil that befalls them and mocks them when they cry for help (Pro. 1:26). In the same manner, God Himself mocks the mocker in His opposition to their pride (Pro. 3:34). The Lord laughs at the wicked and taunts them, for He sees His great Day of Judgment looming over them (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8).
The prophet Isaiah ridiculed idol-makers in their own folly and makes numerous other quips at the expense of the Israelites who fell into idolatry (Is. 40:19-20, 44:6-20, 46:1-7, 48:1-11). Elijah taunts the Israelites in their idolatrous worship yet again and additionally mocks the false god Baal (1 Kings 18: 16-40). Additionally, there is much within the polemic literature of the Bible that mocks the nature of competing gods. I think first and foremost of the plagues poured out upon Egypt through Moses; each plague knocked hard against a particular Egyptian god, to ultimately demonstrate their lack of power and Yahweh’s ultimate authority (Ex. 7:5). It was an exercise of mocking their supposed “power” – to which Yahweh simply demonstrates they have none.
The apostle Paul also employs this device regularly, as he draws out the folly of the Corinthians who are causing divisions within the church (1 Cor. 4:6-13). He additionally mocks their tolerance of a man sleeping with his mother in-law (1 Cor. 5), uses their own slogans against them in the same manner, for their sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20), and does similarly with the “spiritual” ones who elevate themselves in Corinth (1 Cor. 13:37; in this example, Paul essentially forces their hand to agree with the apostle).
Jude and Peter mock the false teacher to ultimately demonstrate their utter uselessness and bankrupt moral character (Jd. 1:12-13; 2 Pet. 2:17-22). We find examples wherein Christ Himself used the art of sarcasm to confront the hypocritical leaders of His day (Matt. 12:1-5, 19:4-6, 21:42-46, 22:31-33). In each of these examples, He asks the simple question, “Have you not read?”
Notice His question is rhetorical; they knew the answer and He called them to the carpet for their wickedness. In a rather forward way of framing it, He essentially says, “Are you not the ‘experts’ here, who know the Scriptures? They are abundantly clear. If you have read them, you know.” Christ was not only the Master of eluding the grasp of those who wished to kill Him (until the ordained time) – He artfully evaded their questions designed to trap Him, by using rhetorical devices, satire, and hyperbole. The clear meaning of these things were not obfuscated. Christ ridiculed these men through the use of sarcasm and revealed the intentions of their heart to expose their shame.
Truly then, we are seeing two sides of the coin here. The mocking which is condemned is that of God and His precepts, yet the mocking which is upheld is that of exposing folly, unbelief, and a perversion of justice. The perversion of justice can take form in many ways, including terms of personal morality, oppression of the poor, or a delight in the downfall of another, yet the principal stands nonetheless. Mocking, wholesale, is not out of bounds for the Christian; however, we must properly understand the line can easily be crossed into territory we do not wish to venture in.
An objection could easily be raised that we are not apostles, prophets, wisdom personified, or God Himself – to which I would heartily agree. Secondly, not every example one finds in Scripture is to be adapted for the Christian; no sane, biblically-minded person believes they ought to have 700 wives and 300 concubines as King Solomon did. Seeing as these things are self-evidently true, we ought to recognize our limitations as finite beings capable of folly ourselves. If we take into account the abundant condemnation of wrongful mocking, I sense Christians ought to be incredibly careful in their employment of it, especially if they are lacking wisdom. In essence, a balance must be struck then.
We ought to not only be able to deliver a quip when necessary, but if the object is to disarm the critic and speak into their folly, we ought not to be, “quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting [our] opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). We ought to be characterized as a people who restore our brothers with a spirit of gentleness – and watch ourselves, lest we be tempted (Gal. 6:1). We also ought to be as the Lord is, desiring that all men, which includes those who despise and mock you in an ungodly manner, could come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; Ez. 18:23).
Striking language serves a purpose and our God is a God of words. He has given us the tools to wield this sword well and I don’t believe people ought to be afraid of them. More often than not, at least in today’s Western, Evangelical culture – people are afraid to say much of any substance whatsoever, lest they offend. There is the constant appeal to “tone” and while I will also qualify that one should not be routinely bombastic or harsh, there is a place and time where strong words are needed, and even a time to mock. These things cut through the pretense and false humility in order to strike the heart and yet at the very same time, a gentle answer may turn away wrath (Pro. 15:1). The operative thing here then would be discernment, not avoidance.
In other words: mocking is never to be the modus operandi of the Christian – and it ought to be employed selectively, carefully, and with a purpose to let wisdom prevail so God’s glory is maintained. Moreover, the objective of mocking is to awaken a fool to his folly or answer the fool accordingly so his foolishness is exposed to all (Pro. 26:5). It is never to be exhibited in the same manner of foolishness as his own folly (Pro. 26:4). Simply because something can be appropriate doesn’t mean it is always appropriate, nor does it mean everyone who wields such a tool can do so effectively and purposefully.
Our aim should be to give a defense to everyone, “…but in gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who slander [us] will be put to shame by our good behavior in Christ.” Striking that balance while using appropriate sarcasm and mockery is tough for even those who use such tactics well. It is incredibly easy to step over that line – and people deserve so much more than mere derision. In any case of application, we ought to pause and ask if this is an occasion deserving of ridicule. In some cases, it surely is, and I would argue it can be the most appropriate and effective tool to use to stop the mouth of a fool or show the absurdity of an argument. In many other cases, arguably, more cases, it isn’t necessary. Instead, a well-reasoned argument can be put forth in defense of the truth.