Rebellion and Scoffing

by Matthew Raley Sarcasm is my default mode. My favorite form of literature is satire, and I bond quickly with anyone who has wit.

I am like much of my generation, which seems to have rejected the true believer's ardor in favor of irony. But in me, scoffing is also a tic that comes with being self-taught. Autodidacts don't submit. They too quickly dismiss what they've heard before because the notion wasn't original with them. These qualities made me a difficult boy to raise -- as my parents often affirm.

So the third characteristic of rebellion that we discovered in Deuteronomy 31-32, contempt, was uncomfortable for me to study.

The Lord foretells that the Israelites “will despise me,” having “grown fat” from the land’s fruit (31:20). Moses finishes that sketch in the song (32:15). “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.”

Persistent scoffing was a feature of Israel’s camp life in the wilderness.

One thinks of Korah’s sarcastic jab at Moses, taking the phrase that described the land of Canaan and applying it to Egypt (Numbers 16:13). “Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us?”

Scoffing would remain the scourge of Israel’s prophets right down to the last, as the Lord warned Ezekiel (2:6). “And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”

I identify too closely with this kind of contempt.

As I said in another post, scoffing is like an energy drink. It gives a false feeling of superiority, of remaining unaffected by others, and of knowing people’s “real” motivations. And once you get hooked on it, weaning yourself off the security of sarcasm is difficult.

A pattern of scoffing, in this sense, is just like the patterns of idolatry and lying we've already seen: it breaks a person's contact with that unyielding master, reality. It fortifies him in rebellion, the exaltation of his subjective world over the claims of others.

The job of a parent is often to strengthen some of a child's ways against others.

In my case, Dad and Mom tamed my contempt for others, and for authority generally, by strengthening my sense of God's majesty and a reverence for truth. With a conviction that I must not lie, I was already sensitized to my own fakery. More than that, having already believed that God will not adapt to my priorities but that I must adapt to his, I was not going to venture any contempt for him.

These have helped me keep my flair for satire within a proper, narrow scope: puncturing self-regard, my own included, and exposing the folly of human hatred against God.

The most potent tool for parenting is not rules, which feed a scoffer's conceit, but a high view of God. That alone can humble the proud.