Sarcasm and Jesus

I am sarcastic.

I gotta confess, and those of you who know me well know this about me already – I LOVE sarcasm.  Probably too much.  I am pretty sure sarcasm is my Gift!  I know my entire family is blessed with it.  🙂  I realize sarcasm can be hurtful if used in the wrong way.  I have zero doubt I have used it in that way before.  Tonight in fact.   I am trying to do better.  But sarcasm can also be used in a way that gets people to see something that they may not have seen before, and I think this is a good use of sarcasm.

The Bible has much to say about the words we use—and the way we use them.  And it shows that there are good and bad forms of sarcasm.  To know the difference, we must examine the motive behind it.  When exercised in a negative, demeaning manner, or our intention is to make another person feel or look bad, and to make ourselves look better at the same time, this is clearly wrong.

Though I often don’t, I should be asking, “Do my words and actions help and encourage others?  Do they build others up or do they tear them down?”  Though I’ve done well to keep my sarcasm about politics off of Facebook or public forums, my husband has heard his share of these comments from me towards the upcoming election.  They were hurtful and unnecessary and my saying them will not change who is in office.

But most sarcastic comments I make are done in a mildly sarcastic or facetious manner, without intending to demean anyone.  Sometimes, such statements can actually lighten a tense moment or bring a smile to someone’s face, when they realize the true intent behind it.

This is where tact and discretion must be exercised.  Even when a particular comment could potentially lighten a serious moment, I must put myself in the other person’s shoes, and imagine how such a statement may be received.  And although my intentions may be very innocent, “a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment” (Ecc. 8:5), and knows when to say (or not to say) what.

We see everything with an eye roll.  It’s true: most of us are jaded and suspicious of earnest claims.  But to me, sarcasm is a kind of truth-telling.  It has the ability to see conventions as conventions, cliché as cliché, and insincerity for what it is.  But does that make it right?  It depends.  Certainly snarky is not always appropriate or kind.  But if the Bible is any guide, there are also times when sarcasm is the appropriate answer.

Take the Book of Job. Job is a good, righteous man, yet he’s suffering.  The first three friends attempt to comfort him in all earnestness but get the whole thing amazingly wrong: they try to figure out what God is doing, they insist that Job must have done something to deserve his terrible circumstances; they urge him to make things right between God and himself.  And what does God say at the end?  God doesn’t soothe Job, but addresses him in what I would call a sarcastic mode: “What’s this? Have you done what I’ve done? How can you even claim to know what you’re talking about? Tell me, if you’re so smart.”

There’s tension, irony, sarcasm, and challenge to convention all over the Bible.  Even Jesus says a few things in the Gospels that confused people on purpose and messed with conventions.  Both Jesus and Paul said MANY things in a manner that have been described as sarcastic, confrontational, in your face, or harsh.  The fact is if they weren’t being sarcastic, they were being something that we have a hard time describing.

The intent of both Jesus and Paul was never to put down or insult, but to build up and encourage.  They spoke in ways that caused the audience to hear the truth by seeing the absurdity of the wisdom they grew up with. There are many instances of a subtle or witty use of reasoning in the language that might be described as tongue-in-cheek.  

Of course, I am not Jesus, so how do I stop my thoughts from leaping out of my mouth when it is best to hold back, especially once it’s become an addictive behavior in which I reach for that quick sarcastic remark to avoid expressing my true feelings and concerns?

  • I must first recognize and take responsibility for my own feelings. What are my real feelings? How can I express these feelings in a more productive manner?
  • Motivation: Why am I making a comment? Is my comment really necessary to move the discussion forward or is it just designed to be evil or get attention?
  • Goals: What goal do I hope to achieve by being sarcastic? Am I achieving these goals? Probably not.

Hopefully if I administer these three points, I will be wise in my words as Ecclesiastes tells us to be.


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