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The DEEP

The Most Powerful Fool

The might of the mocker

Proverbs 1:22

22 “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.

Proverbs 9:7-9

“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself,
And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.

8 Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;
Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.

9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

 

The hit comedy TV show Seinfeld was a treasure house of ordinary life in the modern western world. The sitcom aired from 1989 to 1998, and for nine seasons, the “show about nothing” captured some of the most basic aspects of human relationships and the goings-on of the heart.

As Seinfeld followed comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his three friends through their daily exchanges against the backdrop of the absurdities and joys of daily life in New York City, their most mundane interactions were a source of hilarious comedy–precisely because of how unspectacular it all was.

Episodes with titles like, “The Soup Nazi,” “The Marble Rye,” The Bubble Boy,” and “The Junior Mint,” immediately evoke vivid images and a grin from a generation of fans–who still enjoy the reruns today on one of a thousand streaming channels.

Here is an exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and his friend Elaine about something nearly every person has faced in his or her life: attending a boring wedding out of family obligation. Misery loves company:

Jerry: I will go to that, if you go with me to a little family wedding I have on Saturday.

Elaine: A *wedding*!? Have you *lost* it, man?

Jerry: Y'know, my parents are coming in for this...

Elaine: A *wedding*?

Jerry: There's a lot of people to mock...

Upon hearing of this delicious prospect, Elaine’s face lights up with a devious smile and she is all-in for an afternoon of scathing observations and snarky comments about the other guests.

Why do we love mockery so much? Let me clarify: why do we love mockery when it is not directed at us?

Ah. Therein lies the rub.  

Mockery is a most enjoyable form of comedy–or tool of debate–when it is not being deployed at you but at someone who, in your mind, is far more deserving.

Like all of us, you remember well the old playground dynamic of being mocked by a bully–or finding yourself in a crowd delighting in the mockery of another. Perhaps mockery is your own specialty, and in an argument, you cannot help but discern an opponent’s weakness and mercilessly exploit it for a solid win.

Mockery is so effective a form of human control and manipulation that it is even a part of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.”

Rule five: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage

Alinsky, one of the patron saints of Progressivism, recognized that there was almost no defense against an assault of well-executed mockery, and this tactic has been used effectively in politics for decades.

One example of mockery’s effectiveness is in the 1993 blockbuster western film, Tombstone. In a famous scene, the villainous gunslinger Johnny Ringo confronts Doc Holliday in a saloon. Tension mounts as tough talk ensues until it seems that deadly gunplay will soon occur.

Ringo (played by Michael Beihn) draws his six-shooter and twirls it threateningly before Holliday. Doc Holliday (played as a feverish consumptive by Val Kilmer) is unimpressed by the fancy moves and twirls a tin cup on his finger to mock Ringo.

Trigger fingers tighten in the crowd of onlookers, but soon, grins break out as the mockery takes hold. Ringo is embarrassed and shamed as even his friends have a laugh at his expense. The atmosphere of menace subsides–until the climactic gun battle at the end of the movie.

Mockery may be an effective tool of conflict, but in Proverbs, the mocker is considered a special kind of fool. Lady Wisdom warns mockers, scoffers and scorners–and Dame Folly welcomes them into her fold:


22 “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning. –Proverbs 1:22a

To be a fool and a mocker means that you have a hardness in your heart for truth and for building relationships with others. Tim Keller points out that the root of mockery is “high pride that hates submitting to anyone.” This is a form of foolishness that is not based on intelligence or ability, but is entirely about attitude.

The mocker hates to be wrong and will ridicule and destroy in order to be seen as in the right. The mocker works to build a coalition of supporters–often made up of those who see the mocker as a valuable ally in that they are not the ones being mocked.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan describes the “double-edged blade” of laughter:

Nothing more rewarding than a laugh; nothing is more uncomfortable than a laugh. - Jim Gaffigan

The mocker is often seen as wise in the eyes of the world–an admirable quality that the heart naturally pursues.

But the cost is great, as Solomon warns through Lady Wisdom in chapter 9:

“He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself,
And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself.
8 Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you;
Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.–Proverbs 9:7-8

To be a mocker is to resist instruction–to become stunted in your spiritual growth and in your development in Christ. The ultimate fate of a scoffer is to become disregarded by the world and even to end up in loneliness:


12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself,
And if you scoff, you will bear it alone.”–Proverbs 9:12

The mocking fool believes he is the one who can “see” the real situation or the truth. C.S. Lewis warns of the “invisible world” that this creates for you:

You cannot go on 'seeing through' things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to 'see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see. - CS Lewis, “The Abolition of Man”

In the modern age it is easy to argue and mock–especially on the internet, where anonymity will hide you or where it is easy to pretend there is not a person on the other side of the screen. In the rush to do battle or to constantly seek a weakness in an “enemy’s” armor, you also become hardened to God’s instruction and to the heart connection with others that you are called to pursue in Christ.

Tim Keller reveals that:

Often the scorner has valid points, but because of his or her dogmatic and proud attitude, no peace is possible inside a community. This is because scoffers don’t know how to affirm and live in harmony with people who don’t agree with them on everything. –Timothy Keller, address on “Scoffers, Scorners and Snark”

So what are you to do? What if I try to use my skills in mockery to benefit the church–to use my powers for good, so to speak?  Mockery, like Sauron’s corrupting ring, has a power almost too great to be used for God’s glory. As Lady Wisdom cautions, so the Psalmist describes the believer who has a heart for God:


1 Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; Psalm 1:1

Can you be a mocker of others and profess to have the love of Christ? How can you seek souls for Christ, and build up your weaker brothers and sisters, if you are breaking them down in the name of your own power?

It is true that some figures in the Bible used tools like irony and sarcasm to win debates. Elijah did battle with the prophets of Baal, and Paul was adept at critiquing his–and the Gospel’s–detractors. Of course, Christ was a master at turning the words of His enemies against them–but derision and contempt were not part of this.

Paul describes the burden in his heart to show Christ in his dealings with others:  

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.–I Corinthians 2:1

The best translation of “excellence of speech or of wisdom” here is “eloquence” and “superior wisdom.” These were tools of ancient debate and Tim Keller tells what Paul is using here:

First, there was “verbal bullying,” using force of personality, witty and cutting disdain, and super-confident demagoguery to beat the listeners into wanting to be on the speaker’s side.

Second, there was applause-generating, consumer-oriented rhetoric, playing to a crowd’s prejudices, pride, and fears.– Timothy Keller, address on “Scoffers, Scorners and Snark”

The attitude of you and me, as believers in Christ, is to reflect Him as Paul sought to do:

For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.–I Corinthians 2:2-3

The path of the mocking fool is the path of loneliness and eventually bitterness against the world and against those around you. As Christ endured the mocking of the soldiers who tortured Him, the jeers of the crowd, the twisted accusations of the religious leaders, He nevertheless stayed faithful to the will of His Father.

As Jesus emptied Himself (Philippians 2) so you must put aside your pride, trading the desire to win at all costs for the desire to win the hearts of others through the love of the One who paid the cost for your sin and the sins of the world.  

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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