Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sarcasm: Words that Cut like a Knife

The Bible has much to say about the words we use—and the way we use them. David new the seriousness of our Words when he prayed, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;

Keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3). In Proverbs 13:3 his son Solomon said, "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction." Later he says, "Whoever guards his mouth and tongue. Keeps his soul from troubles" (Prov. 21:23). If we want to preserve our lives, and I would include the relations ships in our lives, we need to guard our mouths. If we want our soul, which is the seat of our emotions to be calm and without trouble we need to guard our mouths. James dedicates most of chapter 3 to our speech! Colossians 4:6 instructs us to "let your speech aways be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer each one." Our words ought to have the preserving power of salt, preserving our listeners, building them up! Our words are to be motivated and empowered by grace. But there is a type of speech that is damaging. It is when my intention is to make another person feel bad or “look bad,” and to make myself look better at the same time, this is clearly wrong. This is often done through sarcasm. Sarcasm is often used as a stepping stool which is intended to make me look bigger at the expense of the another! But actual what I am doing is stepping on the person as the stepping stool! God’s Word says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).

A good practice is ask yourself, “Do my words and actions help and encourage others? Do they build others up or do they tear them down?” Of course, we all occasionally make comments in a mildly sarcastic, without intending to demean others. Sometimes, such statements can lighten a tense moment or bring a smile to another person’s face, when he or she realizes the true intent behind it. By looking at creation, we can see that God definitely has a sense of humor. Therefore, it is not wrong to sometimes look at things from the “lighter side.”

If grace is guiding my speech the Lord will give me tact and discernment when talking to others. Even when a particular comment could potentially lighten a serious moment, we must put ourselves “in the other person’s shoes,” and imagine how such a statement may be received. Although our intentions could be very innocent, and even good, “a wise man’s heart discerns both time and judgment” (Ecc. 8:5), and knows when to say (or not to say) what.

Also notice Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool, when he holds his peace (does not speak), is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” It is sometimes better to say nothing at all. We should examine our motives. Sometimes, we may be tempted to make a particular remark simply to show others how “clever” we are, without even considering how it will make the other person feel.

Psalm 5:9 describes those whose “throat is an open sepulcher,” and Jesus Christ said, in Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Ultimately, we must all follow Christ’s admonition in Luke 6:31: “And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise.” In other words, we must always be considerate of others, treating them the way we would want to be treated. This includes the way we speak to them. You will be known as much by your words as by your actions, so choose your words wisely. Everyone will benefit in the long run!

Many comedians and T.V. Shows use sarcasm at the expense of others. They think they are entertaining the audience, but they are really setting an example for viewers to follow. Our children grow up believing this is socially acceptable. These sharp, cutting remarks are given with the intent to wound or embarrass. Sarcasm is hurtful to others. At the very least, it’s got tremendous potential to be misunderstood since there is always a ‘hidden message’ involved. I urge you to consider today whether it’s worth risking alienating another person in the interest of getting a laugh.

Someone has said, “Show me a sarcastic person,” he said, “and I will show you a wounded person. And I can tell you where their wound is too.” You’ve probably heard it said, “I can’t always tell when you’re being real and when you’re being sarcastic.”

Sarcasm is the use of irony (saying one thing while meaning another) or other rhetorical devices in a biting, hurtful way. There is a difference between sarcasm and satire, although they are related. Satire is the use of irony or ridicule to expose foolishness, but without the “bite” of sarcasm. Satire is gentler; sarcasm is more derisive and sneering.

The question is, is satire or sarcasm ever appropriate? This would be easy enough to resolve if not for the fact that God uses satire in several places in Scripture. For example, Paul's words in this passage: "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 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 Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now" (1 Cor. 4:8-13).

Is Paul's language ironic here? Absolutely. Was it hurtful? Intentionally so. Yet, because his intent was to lead the stubborn Corinthians to the truth, it can still be considered loving. In fact, Paul followed this passage with, "I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children."

The Corinthians would not have considered Paul’s language intentionally cruel. Instead, they would have recognized Paul was using rhetoric to make a point. The Corinthians felt superior to Paul, casting judgment on him. So he calls them spiritual kings and says, ironically, that he is "the filth of the world" and "the offscouring of all things.” The passage sounds sarcastic. It says one thing while meaning another in a way that makes the hearers look foolish. But Paul’s method was not meant as a personal insult. The goal was to grab the readers’ attention and correct a false way of thinking. In other words, Paul’s words are satirical, but not sarcastic. They are spoken in love to “beloved children.”

Other passages in the Bible that use satire include Isaiah’s ridicule of idol-makers (Is. 40:19-20), God’s taunting of Egypt (Jer. 46:11), and Elijah’s gibes directed at the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus Himself used satire in the form of hyperbole when He told His hearers to “take the plank out of your own eye” (Mtt. 7:5). Therefore, we can say that irony is fine; irony is a figure of speech that can bring attention and clarity to a situation. Sometimes, irony can be painful because the truth it reveals is convicting. Satire, which uses irony to gently deride and prompt needful change, can be appropriate on occasion; we have examples of satire in Scripture.

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is not appropriate. Sarcasm has at its core the intent to insult or to be hurtful with no corresponding love or wish for well-being. Instead, the goal of sarcasm is to belittle the victim and elevate the speaker. Jesus warned against such harsh, unloving words in Matthew 5:22. Our words should be helpful and edifying, even if they are uncomfortable to the hearer.

We should speak the truth with loving intent (Eph. 4:15), avoiding “foolish talk or coarse joking” (Eph. 5:4). We should speak in such a way that the hearer will understand our motivation. And we should never be malicious or cruel. Carefully worded irony may be fitting, but malicious sarcasm is not.

How many times have we heard someone say, "I didn’t mean it, I was only joking," or "JK (meaning Just Kidding)? But what does the Bible say about that? In Proverbs 26:18-19 we read, "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “I was only joking!” We have experienced the truth of those words all too many times.

Author Rodney A. Wilson talks about sarcastic humor that damages in a Home Life Magazine article titled “Cut the Sarcasm.” In it he writes: “My dictionary is ancient, but its definition of sarcasm is classic. ‘Sarcasm’ comes from a word meaning ‘to tear flesh, like dogs.’ It means to be brutal, have no mercy, be vicious, go for the jugular, tear flesh the way a dog would.” That does not sound to us like something we should be doing to each other followers of the God who is Love! To be true imitators of the God of Love is to show honor and respect for the feelings others, not revealing or doing anything that will embarrass or “cut others down.”

In the magazine article previously referred to, Mr Wilson also went on to write, “While humor may appear to soften the blow, the unseen emotional damage of sarcasm can be devastating. I’m convinced many marriages die of a thousand emotional cuts instead of one deadly blow. A steady diet of sarcasm poisons a marriage — so it needs to be eliminated. No good comes from using it.

In another article titled “Sarcasm: The Verbal Enemy at the Gate”, featured on the Life Way web site, authors Dale and Jenna Forehand also speak about sarcasm and humor that hurts. They write:

“Sarcasm is one of the most harmful verbal tactics used against a spouse. It destroys communication and unity in marriage. One of the oldest military strategies is to divide and conquer. Our enemy, Satan, still uses that tactic to destroy families. Satan first seeks to separate you and your spouse emotionally. Then he moves in and seeks to separate you and your spouse physically.

When this occurs, he is in perfect position to conquer your marriage. In the midst of conflict, the enemy begins outside the gate of your marriage, cunningly tempting you and your spouse to wage war through verbal attacks. And sarcasm often is Satan’s weapon of choice.” The authors then give an acrostic “to help you to understand why sarcastic remarks are so damaging to marriages.”

S = it Stings
A = it Aggravates
R = it Retaliates
C = it is Controlling
A = it Alienates
S = it Shames
M = it Manipulates.

They go on to say, “If we know the enemy uses sarcasm to tear down marriages, then what can we do about it? We need to lay down the weapons of our enemy and pick up the weapon God has given us through His Word. Colossians 3:12-17 provides the perfect answer: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

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