September 10, 2014

No Laughing Matter

I guess I’m going to need to make note of this study and start applying it to everyday life. I am often quick with a joke or an avid practitioner of wit and sarcasm. I figured as long as the joke is clean or doesn’t cause anyone undue duress, all is fair game. After studying the Scriptures, in particular Paul’s comment in Ephesians 5:4, I have come to a different conclusion. The verse in question goes like this…

Ephesians 5:4 ~ “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving“

At face value it appears to say nothing about witty sarcasm. It is also clear that coarse language and profanity should be grouped in under the category of "foolish talk" and "crude joking" as corroborated in Ephesians  4:29, Colossians 3:8. It is often assumed because this verse is bracketed both before and after with mentions of sexual immorality (v.3 and 5), that it too is referring to crude sexual jokes. Here is part of the problem with saying this passage only dwells on sexual humor and therefore justifies usage of sarcasm as fair game. The previous and later verses also speak of impurity or uncleanliness. These impurities can be either physical (sexual) or moral impurity. In other words the jokes don’t just need to be sexual to be wrong.

I have always been one to deliver quick or witty statements to people when the opportunities present themselves. I have been included among those that find sarcasm an acceptable form of humor. The wittier a response the better I appreciate the joke. Sarcasm is a thinking man’s gibe... I have justified myself by saying that sarcasm is acceptable by citing the story of the Canaanite woman’s faith in Matthew 15 as both witty and sarcastic. The Lord got the joke and even seemed to encourage her tenacity.

Matthew 15:21-28 ~ “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The problem is that this exchange was not in jest. It was done in deadly earnest. She was not joking, she was ἔκραζεν/ekrazen/crying-out which means an outcry in grief or pain and she was looking for mercy. It appears she probably was starving because she had to beg for food. She had nothing left to loose so she delivered to Jesus the hard truth of her condition while simultaneously acknowledging who Jesus was, Lord and Master. She saw this approach to the Lord as an all-or-nothing proposition. The Lord knew he could help this woman so the anxiety she felt in her outcry is not reciprocated by Jesus. He merely acknowledges her plight and the truth of her statement and rewards her tenacity and faith when she comes begging from Jesus. There is no sarcasm here as much as it is a plea of desperation peppered with bitter truths.

So this passage really cannot be used to justify sarcasm without removing it from its original context and inserting it in a mere joking manner as mentioned by Paul. So why else has my mind begun to change about the nature of sarcasm and inevitably facetiousness? Let us revisit Ephesians 5:4.

The word Paul uses for course jesting or crude joking could mean inappropriate sexual jokes but it means more than that. The word is εὐτραπελία/eutrapelia means "well-turned" or the ability to turn something around instantly with graceful skill like an acrobat. It is the ability to turn words around or purposely use them in a way not intended to solicit a reaction (good or bad). The problem lies in the context this statement is being made in by Paul. Paul is using it in a negative or bad context associated with immorality. Furthermore it is indeed grouped in with sexual immorality. This means the word then stops being about clean or wholesome wit and becomes something totally different. It becomes course and facetious (and possibly sexual).

Facetiousness as a trait is not about humor. When a person is facetious its not so much about being funny as it is about being dark and malevolent. I would even go as far as saying that being sarcastic and facetious is to be latently hostile and sinister. A facetious person is primarily characterized by a snide and sneering attitude. This gives the sarcastic or facetious person an air of superiority and intellectual arrogance. This is not Christian, it is condescending and mockery. Only God is in the position to condescend. These biting words do not build trust, they foment animosity and distrust. It makes people the butt of jokes.
In the end sarcasm just becomes caustic wordplay intent on demeaning someone. Paul lists facetiousness and sarcasm as just as dangerous to the Christian as sexual immorality and covetousness. Is it really that bad? I would have to say yes, it is. Why? Because of the frame of mind it puts the practitioner of sarcasm in. They are indeed in a condescending position, an ability given rightly only to God. The practitioners of this “course humor” is therefore patronizing their victim and that means they are being haughty. What has the Bible said about the haughty?

Proverbs 16:18 ~ “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Please note that the Bible doesn’t say that you need to be haughty to fall, you only need a spirit of haughtiness.

Laughing and jokes are good things. They are part of the range of emotions given to man who is created in the image of God. Proverbs even tells us…

Proverbs 17:22 ~ “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Joking and humor can foster a relationship of trust and endearment. This changes though when the intent of the joking changes. Sarcasm does not come from a joyful heart, it comes from a highly critical one. If you are doing something humorous and it is clean humor that doesn’t demean and debase someone, you are on safe ground. If your intent is to cut someone up or put them down (even a little), your heart is totally in the wrong place. Think about it for a second folks. Is putting someone down and making them look foolish really that funny? I suspect not. This includes self-depreciating humor or sarcasm directed at one’s self. God made us all in His image. Snide or self-depreciating humor about one’s self ends up murdering or undermining one’s own character. A character that was intended to reflect a divine image.

Instead we are called to give thanksgiving. Instead of cutting other people down we are to lift God up.

I guess a few of us are going to need to re-evaluate what we think is funny…because sin is no laughing matter.

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