Scorn

Preaching and Worship Resources about Scorn

Scorn is intense dislike and rejection of anyone or anything thought to be worthless, offensive, or despicable. Its immediate family members are disdain and contempt. Its typical expression is scoffing. Scoffing is audible or visual scorn. Scorn of what's offensive may sometimes be righteous, but scorn is often motivated by pride, meaning the scornful often scoff downward from a lofty seat of judgment. Scorn and scoffing can easily become habitual.

In Scripture

"They kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy" (2 Chron. 36:16).

"At my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth" (Ps. 35:15 - 16).

"You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger" (Ps. 44:13 - 16).

"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous. Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor" (Prov. 3:33 - 34).

"A wise child loves discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke" (Prov. 13:1).

"The devising of folly is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to all" (Prov. 24:9).

"Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath. If the wise go to law with fools, there is ranting and ridicule without relief" (Prov. 29:8 - 9).

"At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport" (Hab. 1:10).

"I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council" (Matt. 5:22).

"I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36 - 37).

"The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, `Hail, King of the Jews!' They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him" (Matt. 27:27 - 31).

"Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, `You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross'" (Matt. 27:39 - 40).

Points to Ponder

Righteous scorn: "Intense dislike and rejection of anyone or anything thought to be worthless, offensive, or despicable" might be righteous. A Christian will not scorn persons because wholesale rejection of them is inconsistent with the love that Jesus requires of us even toward enemies. But nothing stops a Christian from righteously scorning political corruption or advertising fraud or phony preaching. These things and other evils ought to be disliked and rejected.

Almost always negative: But scorn and scoffing are so regularly motivated by sinful pride that the Bible almost always treats them negatively. Scoffers may be cynics, for example, who never look at a good deed simply. They think good deeds must have hidden and malign motives, else why would anybody do them? Good people must have an angle of some kind, they think, else why would anybody be good?

Scorners scoff at kindness as a weakness. They think compassion is too soft. To scoffers, honest daily work is for fogies. Mobster Henry Hill in the 1989 film Goodfellas explains his contempt for ordinary folk who live straight, ordinary lives: "To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks, who took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills, were dead. They were suckers. They had no guts. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice, they got hit so bad they never complained again. It was routine. You didn't even think about it."

In wisdom literature: Scorn and scoffing show up regularly in the Bible's wisdom literature (see the proverbs above) as examples of folly. People who scorn and scoff a lot are fools: Their scoffing makes them poor learners. They don't listen. They can't profit from rebuke or even suggestion. Moreover, a moment's thought uncovers another disadvantage of being a scoffer. If your instinct is regularly to dismiss or revile, you abort some of life's greatest gifts — reverence, awe, love of beauty. A scoffer is not inclined to pause and wonder. And the scoffer closes himself off from intimacy and therefore from real friendship.

Scorn and bigotry: And, of course, the scorner harms not only him- or herself. Scorn typically resides deep within racism, sexism, tribalism, and other forms of bigotry. To bigots, certain "others" are unworthy, maybe contemptible. They lack the weightiness and dignity of human beings created in the image of God. If others presumptuously think they possess dignity, the scoffer assails it. His mission is to shred the dignity of anybody who is not like himself.

It's everywhere: Christians who try to avoid being exposed to unrighteous scorn and scoffing will have to be nimble. They're everywhere. Social media are full of scorn and mockery. Certain TV talk and "news" shows package scorn and scoffing as entertainment. Televised sports include celebrations that verge on taunting. Even booing is a form of scoffing.

Scorn has a wide vocabulary: As this last example suggests, scoffing may be audible and has a wide vocabulary: jerk, dork, dunce, dumbass, fool, idiot, imbecile, cretin, moron, etc. Or it may be visual: raising your middle finger, circling your ear with your index finger, thumbing your nose, imitating and exaggerating the movements of a person with a disability.

The consequences of scorn: Scorn leads not only to scoffing, hissing, jeering, mockery, and taunting, but also to physical assault, murder, and war. In 1930s Germany, Aryan pride was coupled with a lethal Aryan scorn. Germany's war propaganda would have been juiceless without it.

Jesus condemns: In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus strongly condemns scorn. He does so with the use of an Aramaic term that all his listeners would have understood: Raca. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus says this: "I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council." The Greek is this: "If you say "Raca" to a brother or sister . . .". "Raca" may have come from the sound you make in your throat when you hawk up phlegm before spitting. So Jesus is condemning a scorn that is contemptuous enough to spit on somebody.

Understanding this makes Jesus's own suffering and death all the more poignant. In chapter 27 of his gospel, Matthew tells us of Jesus's suffering at the hands of the Romans. Here Jesus is, ringed by hooting soldiers, draped with somebody's moth-eaten bathrobe, adorned with a sick joke of a crown, his beard matted with other men's spit. Here is the king of heaven, somebody's boot in his back, lurching around a drill ground while soldiers kneel and giggle. Here in the depths of St. Matthew's Passion is the Son of God made to look absurd.

He was bearing our grief and carrying our sorrow. He was suffering not only for human sin, but also from it — from one of the vilest forms of it. Scorn and mockery are mortifying. They make you want to die. And in this case the Roman soldiers may have been working from an old rule of human sin: We human beings not only hurt people we hate; we also hate people we have hurt. If we hurt them badly enough, they eventually look so ragged and bloody and awful that even they feel as if they'd be better off dead. So we kill them.

Matthew links mockery and death: "The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him." Matthew tells us what the soldiers did to Jesus and then he makes the link between mockery and death. He tells us that when they had finished mocking him "they . . . put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him away to crucify him" (Matt. 27:27 - 31).

Where scorn and mockery are concerned, crucifixion is just a way of finishing someone off.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.