Wednesday, June 25, 2014

You Say You're Sarcastic? Oh, what a surprise...

Dear Friends,

Those in my life, both those who love me dearly and those who barely tolerate me, will positively and confidently affirm my gift of sarcasm. For those of you who do not flow in this gift, let me explain that we translate Proverbs 25:11 a little differently than the rest of you. We tend to read this as “..a word snarkily spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” For those of you who are clueless and pitifully out of touch with all that's relevant in today's culture, the word “snark” is the combination of “snide” and “remark” and refers to cutting sarcasm that's typically meant to be humorous. (I say the above not to offend but to give an example of what snarky sarcasm sounds like) And sarcasm is too often only humorous in the mind of the person speaking it. We delight in our sharp-edged verbal opportunities  to show off our clever and witty side without realizing that our sarcasm, more often than not, reveals our mean, spiteful side and unveils our “holier than thou” attitude for the world to see.

The word “sarcasm” comes from the Greek word SARKAZEIN that means literally to tear the flesh like a biting dog. Mean-spirited sarcasm flows out of a bitter heart and reveals our passive aggressive side – meaning that we are nice on the surface to a person but our bitterness towards them is revealed in our snide remarks. Sarcastic words spoken to loved ones are like dripping acid that slowly eats away their love and trust. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that the power of life and death are in the tongue. We can speak encouraging, edifying words that bring life or we can speak forth words that bring hurt and pain. Rude gestures like eye rolling and our verbal snide, sarcastic remarks figuratively tear flesh and leave our loved one bleeding and wounded. We may see it as harmless bantering, but if our loved ones were honest with us, they may tell us that it feels more like verbal battering.

Sarcasm is often used to convey a different meaning than what is literally said. She sees him in his rumbled, food-stained tee shirt and says, “Well..don't you look nice today..”  He looks at her and says, “Aren't you supposed to be losing weight on your new diet?” In 2 Samuel 6:20, King David's wife Michal despised him for dancing at the return of the ark and sarcastically refers to his behavior as “glorious.” We often use our “gift” of snide sarcasm as a mask so that we can convey what we really mean without actually saying it.

We can find many examples of sarcasm in the Bible.  I'm sure that after being told about Jesus of Nazareth, snarky Nathanael thought he was being witty and humorous when he asked, “..can anything good come out of (that backwater, good-for-nothing town) Nazareth?” (John 1:46) And, Paul occasionally used sarcasm not as a verbal weapon but as a literary device to make a point. Referring to those who claimed that the Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be Christian, Paul expresses his desire that those Judaizers should then prove their own Pharisutical holiness by going all the way and cutting theirs off entirely! (Galatians 5:12 NIV) 

Paul has shown how a gentle, even chiding, use of humor can be used effectively to make a point. Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins sang, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” and our humor can be the honey that smooths the sharp edges of a truthful admonishment and allows it to be more easily accepted.

But, unlike Paul, our own snarky and sarcastic comments are too often more hurtful than humorous – more evil then edifying. Our unchecked sarcasms can belittle and tear down a person and Jesus warns us about the danger in using harsh and unloving words. (Matthew 5:22) Paul sternly admonishes that snarky, hurtful sarcasm (coarse jesting) is a sin that will separate us from the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:4-5) and Paul reminds us to speak words of truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Do you ever think back with regret over something you said? Humor that backfired or was misunderstood? Words that unintentionally hurt others? If so, you may also have the “gift” of sarcasm. Sarcastic words drip like poison into relationships but our Christ-like words that comfort, edify and encourage will speak life. Amen?

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