The Proverbs are a great place to start if you want to see how foolish you are in a maximum of two minutes.
One theme that struck me recently was that of scoffing. I can be a scoffer. Maybe you can relate.
A long quote (what other kind is there?) by David Foster Wallace comes to mind:
“The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. The virtuous always triumph? Ward Cleaver is the prototypical fifties father? “Sure.” Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it.
The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, “then” what do we do?
Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do?
All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”
We’ve become masters of sarcasm and eye-rolling at anything contrary. And as DF Wallace granted, there can be a usefulness in irony; it’s a literary technique we find used even by Jesus and in the Bible. It can snap our brains out of a haze by poignantly, creatively, and quickly revealing a disparity or an uncomfortable truth.
The rhetorical questions of God can be cited here, and many of the well-known images Jesus presented: white-washed tombs, a camel through the eye of a needle, blind guides. These cutting metaphors are meant to wake up and reveal a hidden truth. They are effective, memorable, and purposeful. And there is also a great solution presented with the piercing truths of the Bible; it is not a book of fruitless criticism.
Likewise, there is a place for difficult remarks in life. Systems become corrupt, even the church, traditions or culture equally have the potential to swell beyond their usefulness and eventually someone to speak the truth is needed.
But we’ve worn out that tool, and we’re consequently trapping ourselves in a state of scoffing, in a pit with no escape. The implications are that we don’t make progress, and as the Proverbs really emphasize, we ourselves don’t grow, but instead regress.
Scoffing in my mind is a general disposition; the kind of attitude that leaves no room for questions, no room for correction when it comes to the self. Sometimes, we simply adopt the scoffer’s attitude to avoid being labelled ignorant, stupid by those who seem to know better, not because we have any special amount of insight or truth to herald.
We’re arresting our powers of deduction when issues arise, instead of working through and developing reasoning skills. We’ve excelled at condemning ideas with witty responses (or memes), but are sorely behind in knowing the right answer, understanding wisdom, coming up with balanced, informed solutions instead of knee-jerk ones riding on the pendulum to whatever opposite extreme there is of the unappetizing problem.
We’re training our brains to shut down behind a wall of arrogance when we are personally corrected or given advice that places any sort of responsibility on our shoulders. We mock those who are more put-together or who hold stricter standards.
Some may be reading this and assume I’m talking to unbelievers, but I’m not. I could say I’m talking to my generation of Christians -they are absolutely included- but I’m talking to every Christian because culture is contagious. It seeps in subtly without our knowing it.
My own scoffing became most inflated after I experienced hurt from and the subsequent bitterness towards other Christians. If popular articles are any indication, hurt and bitterness in the church is kind of a thing right now.
But we must be aware that scoffing sets in and grows quickly and viciously in those situations. We may be angry with things that are wrong, and that is good. We can speak out or question, and we must. We can even acknowledge that there seems to be a flawed healing process that will likely include an amount of unhealthy scoffing before we can lay it to rest. But through it all, we have to check-in daily with our hearts, otherwise years will pass before we realize we’ve ended up with a hardened one.
So, maybe I’m especially speaking to those Christians who are dealing with bitterness. Or maybe I’m talking to Christians who recognize the sting of some Biblical truths and use that as an excuse to scoff and bite at everyone around them with dissimilar beliefs. Maybe I am talking to millennials who have unknowingly taken on the tone of today’s culture by functioning entirely through sarcasm, wit, mocking, and irony. Maybe I’m talking to anyone who has realized they’ve reached a point of stagnancy in their faith – that they, for whatever reason, cannot take teaching anymore, that they roll they’re eyes at anyone with any Biblical advice to offer.
As I read through the Proverbs, one of the many thoughts I have is that I do want wisdom. More than anything, I want to be unstuck from my damaging habits and seemingly endless sin. And as I read verses like:
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. 12:1
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. 12:15
A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. 13:1
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding. 14:6
Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance. 14:9
A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise. 15:12
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. 18:2
“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride. 21:24
I feel exposed. And also hopeful. Because there is a solution, albeit a slow one (any well-tuned coping mechanism will take time to disassemble and store away).
There is much hope to find if we simply read and pray daily, and read for ourselves not for the purpose of catching others in their sins.
There is change to come if we can catch ourselves from the immediate scoffer’s response in any given situation.
There is growth to be seen if we can bring ourselves to receive the advice or rebuke from those who are spiritually-minded.
Those are honestly the only ways to regain, or create, that softened-by-God heart, a key to growth and wisdom and maturity. And they are entirely possible with God.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:5, 6
“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” – Proverbs 3:7