A software engineer is a living contradiction – vacillating between optimism toward what might be and pessimism about what is. Software development is the nearest thing to creation ex nihlo man can achieve. Created in the realm of abstract ideas and breathed into life on digital devices, an app reflects unlimited possibilities, limited by only one thing — users. Software is designed for totally depraved users. Optimism regarding what an app can do is counterbalanced by pessimism of what users will do. Though over 90% of any given app’s code is error checking, it is never enough.
This paradigm makes software engineers some of the most pessimistic people you will ever meet. They are definitely in the category of “glass nearly empty” people. They effortlessly convert every management attempt at team-building and motivation into sarcasm and non-compliance. This is what makes them frustratingly anti-social, but this also good at their craft. Being connoisseurs of human folly and masters of sarcasm enables them to drill down to what is actually deliverable in a world in which anything is theoretically possible.
The dictionary defines sarcasm as “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.” By its very nature sarcasm uses absurdity disguised as seriousness to bring clarity to what is true and contempt to what is false. A colleague of mine once remarked that sarcasm had no place in preaching, that it was a form of speech beneath the dignity of a sermon. Yet as a form of distilling truth, sarcasm is employed often in the Bible. Sarcasm in scripture and in preaching often functions as the perfect colander to strain out the pulp of superficiality from the nectar of clarity.
Jesus used many figures of speech. Surely Jesus instructions in Matthew 5:29-30 to pluck out the sinful eye or to amputate a sin-stained right hand are hyperbole and not surgical asceticism. But it is in the prophets where we routinely encounter the literary device of sarcasm. A short survey of the prophets all the way back to Elijah, shows that whenever they addressed the issue of idolatry, sarcasm was used to mock the impotence of false gods. Elijah’s comments on Mt. Carmel are the gold standard.
And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “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
And Isaiah’s scathing rebuke of the folly of idolatry drips with sarcasm when he observes that idols are usually fashioned from scrap wood.
Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” Isaiah 44:16-17
The prophet Jeremiah continues this tradition as he confronts the people of Judah with the folly of their idolatry. Comparing and contrasting their false gods with the true God he calls his people to see the error of their ways, to help them understand how to recognize their own idolatry, and to use the gifts God has given to keep them sliding down that slippery slope. The sarcasm of the prophet makes it ridiculously clear how foolish their idolatry is, but how clearly do we see our own idols?
Can we recognize the things in our lives which take but never deliver, make fools of us, and keep us in fear of losing them? It’s so easy to see the speck in the eyes of others, but planks are hard to detect. What idol has your heart? What is it, that if you lost it would make life not worth living? That is your idol.
Join us this Sunday, September 15, as we learn from the warning of the prophet Jeremiah how to recognize the idols in our lives. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.