Recently, I saw a Christian Journalist by the name of Megan Basham write, “I make no apologies for mocking people who claim the name of Christ but have pronouns in their bio.”
Basham later reinforced her view by invoking Jesus’s words in Matthew 23 and Luke 13 and saying: “These are Jesus’ words for some of his neighbors. The only-gentle, only-soft Christ is a myth, perpetrated to allow wolves to come into church and lead some to Hell by preaching a Jesus who did not harshly confront the sin of those who were brazenly rewriting God’s law.”
Jesus indeed calls the pharisees white-washed tombs and Herod a fox. And more besides. It is worth reflecting on what Scripture says about mocking to understand if Jesus here models a normative rhetorical technique to mock people who, in Basham’s language, “claim the name of Christ but have pronouns in their bio.” And by extension, to mock people for other similar claims.
Mocking has a Revelatory Function in Scripture
In Scripture, mocking often takes a revelatory purpose. God mocks those who make idols in Isaiah. The point is that making idols are foolish since they cannot help you. God does not go after an individual but whole categories of those who make and serve idols.
Jeremiah also has similar passages such as in Jeremiah 10 and 51. Again, no individual is named. But a class of people are called out as foolish for serving a God who cannot save or help as YHWH can. The point is revelatory again. Not to humiliate as such, but to bring to God.
Elijah the prophet mocks in the form of revelation to win back Israel to worship of YHWH:
“Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27).
Can We mock then?
When it comes to us, not God, generally the wisdom literature calls out scoffing or mocking as sinful or unwise. On this see, Job and Proverbs. Job shows how perverse mocking is at the individual level. Proverbs shows how unwise it is in general.
It is mocking at the personal level which I am most cautious of. Consider how easy it was for Job’s friends and others to mock him for being a man of God who must have sinned, since God’s displeasure shone upon his very body:
- “But now those younger than I mock me, Whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock” (Job 30:1)
- “Bear with me that I may speak; Then after I have spoken, you may mock” (Job 21:3)
The point here is that mocking Job as an individual was neither good nor right, since the retributive principle that Job’s contemporaries worked off of did not match the infinite justice of God with rectitude.
The Happy or Blessed man in Psalm 1, one who lives the Good Life, does not “sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Ps 1:1). God might be in a position to scoff at the nations who rebel against him (Ps 2:4). But the comparison between God and human rebels invites the ridiculous.
Jesus also engages in kinds of mocking or at least condemnation against religious leaders. Yet he knew the heart of all men (John 2:24–25). The Gospel Books tell us he knew the hidden intent of these religious leaders. He according to his divinity can deride in truth.
For us, there might be occasions to use the rhetorical device of mocking. Paul with something of a smirk (one might imagine) thinks those who advocate gentile circumcision should just apply the knife to themselves if they like cutting so much!
Still, these exceptions to the rule are just that: exceptions. Swearing or strong language only works because it’s exceptional, or else it is mundane and worthless. For the most part, Scripture says don’t mock. For example, “He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker” (Prov 17:5).
Is Basham Correct?
When I think of Basham’s two tweets above, I find the contrast of the Blessed Man (Ps 1) and YHWH (Ps 2) helpful. The Blessed Man does not sit in the seat of scoffers; yet God in heaven as God can laugh at human attempts to rebel.
I am not sure Basham has rightly understood the scriptural teaching on these matters, nor the heart of Christ. When Jesus confronts sin (as he often does), he surprises us. The woman at the well: patient kindness. Lack of faith: he helps unbelief. And more.
The Bible is very good at helping as humans, and it usually tells us to control our tongues, hearts, and anger. James 1:20 says, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
I think the same is true of mocking.
Again, exceptions exist. I have little problem with strategic strong language and mocking, especially if it’s revelatory as it so often is in Scripture or protective as it is when Jesus protects the flock.