This is going to be one of those posts that people look at and say, “Well, how about that.” I don’t imagine there will be many comments. And yet it’s on a subject that I’ve never seen discussed on a web site devoted to the craft of Christian writing.
It is the subject of sarcasm. Well, that should be a no-brainer, you might say: Sarcasm has no place in Christian writing. The very root and origin of the word means to “cut flesh.” Some milder versions of this rhetorical/literary technique include satire and irony. A familiar example of this kind of tone of writing was Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, in which the author suggested combating world hunger by encouraging cannibalism. And sarcasm is a staple of current television script writing.
Characters in Christian fiction say sarcastic things – the bitter, too-oft-bitten cowboy masks his pain with sarcasm. The teenager answers questions with more questions and sarcasm. A woman in a crisis of faith asks questions of God with sarcasm. Most of the time, such language is condemned because Christians shouldn’t use or promote sarcasm.
We find it in the Bible and people who say it aren’t struck by lightning. It comes out of the mouth of the blind man whom Jesus healed. The Pharisees hammered and hammered his parents and him about how the miracle occurred. In frustration, the man finally retorted, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27).
And believe it or not, even God used this kind of language. In Job, God responds to the beleaguered man’s questions with questions of His own. God describes the incomprehensible miracles of creation and nature and asks Job over and over again where he was and what part he played in these wonders. He questions Job about light and darkness and their origins, and then says, “Surely you know, since you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:21.)
I want to write in a way that pleases God. I want to reflect His preferences and the way He thinks about things.
So – if He uses sarcasm, can I as a Christian writer use it in such a way as to show that I approve of it as well? Do you know of any examples of effective (and approving or approved) use of sarcasm by a Christian writer?