In a portion of a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1910, the former President said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.” Roosevelt’s speech pits the critic against what has become known as “The Man in the Arena.” While the man in the arena fights, struggles, and “strives valiantly…in a worthy cause,” the critic in the stands really does nothing but offer his self-described brilliant commentary and advice. Sadly, we have become a culture of critics. We critique everything and everyone. Restaurants, businesses, entertainment, political leaders, schools, churches…nothing and no one is beyond the power of a review. We feel entitled that our opinion matters and often demand change based on our opinions. In Proverbs, the critic is called Scoffer. King David, Solomon’s father, warns: stay far away from him and don’t ever find yourself “sit[ting] in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1). Proverbs 21:24 says, “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” Other translations of the Bible in place of Scoffer, use the word “Mocker,” or “Scorner.” The New American Standard translates the verse using multiple names: “‘Proud,’ ‘Arrogant,’ ‘Scoffer,’ are his names, one who acts with insolent pride” (Proverbs 21:24, NASB). Eugene Peterson in The Message uses several names as well to describe Scoffer: “You know their names – Brash, Impudent, Blasphemer – intemperate hotheads, every one” (Proverbs 21:24, The Message). We may even translate the word as Narcissist. Waltke notes, “The proverb does not aim as much to define the mocker as to explain that his fury against God and humanity stems from his exaggerated opinion of his self-importance.”
Scoffer sits smugly in his comfortable seat, convinced of his own superiority, dishing out his opinions like they are gold. Sadly, I have seen this reality play out over and over. Good people set themselves in “the seat of the Scoffer” and begin to see the world and themselves from this vantage point. I have found out the hard way that the seat of the scoffer is covered in super glue. The longer you sit there, the more painful and more difficult it is to get out. The Scoffer is the Monday Morning, Armchair Quarterback, the employee who criticizes every decision their boss makes, the church member who critiques every sermon, the child who questions every choice a parent makes, or the student who knows more than the seasoned professor or teacher. All of these come from the belief, “I could do it better. I know better.” A scoffer believes that he is smarter, stronger, and better than everyone and everything; and if not everyone, just most people and maybe even God. From that overinflated ego, he or she has opinions about every subject known to man. Another name for Scoffer could be Mr. or Ms. Know-it-all. Pride consumes the heart of the Scoffer, blinding him to personal, social, and, ultimately, spiritual realities.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12)
FORTRESS OF FOOLS
In Folly’s Fraternity of Fools, Scoffer is the leader. He’s a longtime resident at the House of Folly. He’s the big man on campus. Yet for all his supposed brilliance, he’s as dumb as a box of rocks. The sad fact is that Scoffer doesn’t even realize his own ignorance. He truly thinks he’s a genius and that in all of the earth and all of history, he’s the one who sees things correctly. He or she lives in an absolute state of stupidity, yet believes they are brilliant. The sin of Pride has truly made Scoffer stupid and blind to that reality. CJ Mahaney, in his book “Humility: True Greatness,” writes, “Pride seems to have a strange and sure way of ignoring logic all together…none of us are immune to the logic-defying, blinding effects of pride.” Scoffer delights in his ignorance. Wisdom asks, “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22). Scoffer relishes in his or her mockery of wisdom, truth, instruction, correction, and righteousness. “Evil and ignorance come in a package.”
Throughout both letters written to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul is consistently combating ignorance in the church that has an appearance of wisdom. Immorality and ignorance definitely were paired together in Corinth. In chapter 10, after writing a deeply personal appeal, Paul takes off the kid gloves. He says, of the supposed wise-men in Corinth, “They are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Paul warns that he is viewing his next trip to Corinth as war. He writes, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Paul presents the ignorant, worldly-wise men as hunkered down in a fortress of stupidity. It’s the Fortress of Fools (Sorry, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to alliterate). The visual is a walled fortress with high towers. With each of the Old Testament words translated pride or haughty is the idea of something raised, lofty, or soaring. The idea is a “high” opinion. We would use sayings like, “looking down on someone” or “all high and mighty,” or “looking down their nose.” From that tower, Scoffer feels powerful and above the rest of the world. People are below him and his intelligence. His Tower is his Pride and nothing more. In fact, Scoffer is proudly displaying his real lack of understanding. He has built a fortress of foolishness and a tower that is proof of his own ignorance. He’s completely unaware of how ridiculous he looks. It’s actually quite sad. In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Bunyan writes about a place called Vanity, which hosts a never-ending fair, appropriately called Vanity Fair. One of the features of this fair was the opportunity to purchase “honors, promotions, titles.” I imagine Scoffer running this particular booth from his lofty seat in his lofty tower. He has given himself the highest honors and for a small price (a nod to Scoffer’s superiority) you too can have one to hang on the wall of your office.
From his tower of ignorance and arrogance, Scoffer has also successfully insulated himself from truth, not just God’s truth, but truth about himself and the world. Scoffer is barricaded behind walls of foolishness. He is completely unteachable. It’s like his whole life has been built to drown out the call of Lady Wisdom. He doesn’t listen, because, in his mind, he already knows better.
“A scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Proverbs 13:1)
“A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12)
GOOD LUCK TRYING TO HELP A SCOFFER
Truly loving people will attempt to correct or instruct a Scoffer, but will only receive mockery and abuse in return. Scoffer is unreachable and unteachable, and he likes it that way. In his mind, what would he need to learn from you anyway? He’s not all-knowing, but in his mind, he’s close…much closer than you. When you lovingly and even humbly try to help a Scoffer, just beware. He sees the entire world through the lens of his pride. C.S. Lewis writes, “Pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride.” He and his friends will not accept what you have to say. They will hate you. They absolutely reject wisdom, because it confronts and reveals their own inadequacy. If it doesn’t confirm their brilliance, they want nothing to do with it or you.
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.” (Proverbs 9:7-8)
“If you have been foolish, exalting yourself.” (Proverbs 30:32)
A Scoffer is self-deceived about their own abilities and brilliance. They also cause immense relational and emotional damage wherever they go. Scoffer is like a tornado, leaving a path of destruction and casualties. Patrick Lencioni compares the unteachable, proud man to a bulldozer. He writes, “Bulldozers are quick destroyers of teams.” I would add, they destroy families, businesses, churches, and communities.
“The scoffer is an abomination to mankind.” (Proverbs 24:9)
“Scoffers set a city aflame.” (Proverbs 29:8)
A Scoffer is drama 24/7 and super high maintenance. Ironically, in moments of need, they refuse to grow into deeper friendships with anyone, they just use people for their own purposes. Pastor Ray Ortlund writes, “A scoffer is an aggressive, confident, calculating person, outwardly impressive, often successful, but he will slit your throat.” Pride, like a cancer, eliminates “the very possibility of love.” Solomon gives the only answer for dealing with a Scoffer: “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarrelling and abuse will cease” (Proverbs 22:10). Like the valve relieving steam or a knob on a pressure cooker, getting a Scoffer off a team, out of a church, or ending a long time, toxic friendship brings peace and calm. Later, we often wonder how we ever endured the drama in the first place. Not only does the Scoffer leave behind relational and emotional wreckage, the Scoffer lives at complete odds with God.
SCOFFER VS. GOD
Scoffer is the enemy of God. Scoffer has set his kingdom, with his protective walls and towers, against the Kingdom of God. Pride “is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Scoffer rejects God’s standards, authority, and, in some cases, even his existence. A Scoffer can’t allow God to rule, because Scoffer, himself, feels entitled to rule. So Scoffer is not simply opposed to God, he is on a mission to coup God and take over the throne. The original temptation in the garden was “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Mahaney, quoting Charles Bridges, defines pride as “contending for supremacy with God.” The Scoffer is a proud man who desires glory! Mahaney, later writes, “Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride – to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification…the proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.”
Not only is the Scoffer set at odds against God, but God is set against Scoffer. The imbalance of power in this conflict is staggering, but ignorance keeps the Scoffer from seeing this spiritual reality. In Genesis, prideful humanity assembled to build a tower with the purpose of defying God and the goal of making “…a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4). God crushes their rebellion in the same way I could easily knock over a sandcastle. Yet humanity continues to defy God and build our towers. And God keeps knocking them down! Pride is an assault on God. Pride is us playing God. The Scoffer in each of us, “Instead of being grateful for…life, the arrogant lifts himself above the Giver and his image-bearers and considers his successes his own achievements.” The Scripture is clear, God stands in violent, hateful opposition to the Scoffer.
“Toward the scorners he is scornful.” (Proverbs 3:34)
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes…” (Proverbs 6:16-17)
“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:5)
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.” (Proverbs 21:4)
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
“Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and make him low.” (Job 40:11, NASB)
“Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.” (Psalm 101:5)
“For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.” (Psalm 138:6)
See also Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2
Sadly, scoffers can even be Christians. Saved by the grace of God, but filled with twisted, spiritual pride. We become self-reliant and as the ancient historian Tacitus wrote, “The desire for glory clings even to the best men longer than any other passion.” When we are the Scoffer, we simply reject the idea of dependence on the divine. We take credit that belongs only to God. When we do that, we touch the glory, and the Bible says there will be a reckoning.
Scoffers will be held accountable. God is patient and longsuffering in His love toward humanity. Eventually, there will be a judgment. God will crush the proud and dismantle brick by brick their prideful kingdoms. Charles Spurgeon writes, “The seat of the scorner may be lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell; let us flee from it, for it shall soon be empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein.”
“If you scoff, you alone will bear it.” (Proverbs 9:12)
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace.” (Proverbs 11:2)
“The Lord tears down the house of the proud.” (Proverbs 15:25)
“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
“Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools.” (Proverbs 19:29)
“May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts.” (Psalm 12:3)
“Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay the proud what they deserve!” (Psalm 94:2)
“For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up – and it shall be brought low.” (Isaiah 2:12)
“…the scoffer cease…” (Isaiah 29:20)
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51)
When God eventually “tears down” the Scoffer’s kingdom, it serves as a warning to the Simple. The Simple have yet to commit, so they will do well to take a long, hard look at the destruction of the Scoffer.
“Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence.” (Proverbs 19:25)
“When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise.” (Proverbs 21:11)
In 1 Samuel chapter 25, we find the story of a man named Nabal. His name literally means “fool.” Nabal is a scoffer. He’s an idiot and doesn’t know it. He’s an embarrassment to his wife and his employees (servants). Here’s a list of how the Scripture describes this fool:
Rich – Verse 2
Harsh – Verse 3
Badly Behaved – Verse 3
Disrespectful of Authority, specifically God’s authority – Verse 10
Self-Centered and Selfish – Verse 11
Insulting – Verse 14
Ungrateful – Verse 15
Reckless – Verse 13
Worthless – Verse 17, 25
Unteachable – Verse 17
Fool – Verse 25
Folly is with him – Verse 25
Glutton – Verse 36
Drunk – Verse 36
Hardhearted – Verse 37
God killed him – Verse 37
His death was a relief to his wife, servants, and the new king – Verses 39-42
It’s a tragic story with a weird, happy ending. In movie terms, when the credits roll, you don’t know exactly how to feel. The Scoffer was dead and the victims of his pride were free. Abigail, Nabal’s beautiful wife, would no longer be embarrassed or put in harm’s way by her reckless husband. Nabal’s servants no longer had to endure his drunken tirades and insults. King David and his men were vindicated by God. I guess we can call it a happy ending for everybody but the Scoffer.
Growing up in Sunday School, I often wanted to see myself in the Bible stories. Even now as adults we can find ourselves doing that same thing. We ask questions like, would I have been David facing off against Goliath? How would I have reacted if I were Daniel thrown into the lion’s den? As boys, we think about great heroes like Abraham, Moses, or Gideon. Girls think about the adventures of Esther, Sarah, or Ruth. When we see ourselves in the stories, it’s usually as the hero or heroine. Nobody reads the stories and thinks of themselves as the wimp or the bad guy. A few years ago, I was reading 1 Samuel and came to Nabal’s story and I didn’t like what I saw. I realized I had become a Nabal. I was Nabal in the story, not David. I wasn’t the good guy. I was the fool, the idiot. I was the one who embarrassed my wife. Now before you come to my defense or think I’m being too harsh, let me tell you a story.
In 2003, after graduating from college, Jennifer and I moved back to Michigan from Texas. We were both starting in our new jobs in children’s ministry. We couldn’t have been more excited. We had our dream jobs and we were going to build a brand new house. In the meantime, while our house, just a mile down the road from the church, was being built, we moved into Jen’s Dad’s lower level. We didn’t have any kids, so we didn’t need much. Besides, we were working more hours than you can imagine. It was a really exciting time in life. We jumped into our new ministry roles. I was 22 years old and Jen was just 20. Looking back, we were way younger than we realized.
In that first year, we began a program of taking lunch to kids at their schools. It took off. I mean, hundreds of kids. I was having lunch in multiple public schools per week. I was meeting new kids and families. The ministry was exploding. Because it was so busy, I even had a volunteer who coordinated calling the students and parents to arrange the lunches. Early on, the schools changed the rules, moving my lunches from the cafeteria to the library. That was fine. I remember in one school having 30 or 40 kids at a lunch. It was great. Then word came down from the district that we wouldn’t be allowed to do this anymore. I can’t remember what the thought process was, but I was mad. And honestly, not mad because I couldn’t hang out with the kids anymore. I was mad because somebody had the audacity to tell me “no.”
So I decided to run for school board. After all, I was 22 almost 23 years old. I knew everything about running a large school system. (Hopefully, you detect the mounds of sarcasm in that statement.) By this time, our house in Waterford was entering its last stages of construction, and Jen and I were expecting our first child. A little girl was due in June 2004. That sounds like a perfect time to enter the political arena. I got the paperwork and filled it out using my Waterford address still on my driver’s license: 5285 Tubbs Road, Waterford, Michigan. I had yard signs printed, brochures made, signed up for the school board debate, put a float in the parade, got endorsements, and bought a red, power tie. I was ready and destined to win. The school board was going to regret telling me what I could and could not do. After all, they worked for me, for us, the citizens. The newspaper began printing stories about my fight with the school district. The conflict quickly morphed into a fight between Faith Baptist Church and the Waterford School District. Early on in the “campaign,” I wrote a vicious letter that was printed on church letterhead and sent out to our entire database. The conflict was framed as church vs. state and right vs. wrong.
Then out of nowhere, I received a phone call that the chief of police was withdrawing his endorsement because I was under police investigation. With that phone call, life dramatically changed. I had to hire an attorney, which I couldn’t afford, and watch what I had hoped would be a political victory become one of the most embarrassing sagas of my life. Even writing this, I can feel my face getting red, and honestly, it should.
Two detectives from Oakland County came to the church office to interview me. A few days later, I was told to report to the Oakland County Jail on April 12th to turn myself in. From there I would be transported to court. I can still remember taking my tie and belt off at the jail because they weren’t allowed in. I answered questions in booking, was fingerprinted, had my mugshot taken, and was going to be put in the bullpen, when a deputy from our church noticed me and sat me in the office. I felt like a 5-year-old in the principal’s office, but this wasn’t school. This was jail. I was driven by a nice detective over to court and arraigned. I was bound over to the 6th circuit court. I was facing a felony, election law – false swearing. My legal residence wasn’t in Waterford, so I had lied. Four days later, Jen turned 21. On her birthday, I fell 15 feet and broke my left arm. A few days later, I got pneumonia pretty bad and spent 3 days in the hospital. Waterford Township jerked us around a little with the final certificate of occupancy, but in late May, Jen and I moved into our new house. The day Claire was born, June 9th, my picture was on the front page of the “Oakland Press.” Five days later, on June 14th, I lost the election, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I was facing real legal consequences for my mistake. During that time, reporters called and people sifted through our garbage for evidence. All they found was a lot of diapers. The press coverage quickly changed to focus on my impending legal trouble.
On June 22nd, I would appear before Judge Langford-Morris. She seemed reasonable, but intimidating. I was offered a plea deal. I plead guilty to the charges, was put on probation for 13 months, after which, because I was a first-time offender, all charges would be dropped. I was also fined $1000 and sentenced to 30 hours of community service. I remember the judge saying my job qualified as community service. For the next year, I couldn’t leave the state without permission from my probation officer. Monthly I would have to check in with my probation officer, pee in a cup, and breathe in a machine at the probation office. I remember one meeting with my probation officer when he asked me, “Why are you here?” He was baffled by the case. Then in late August 2005, I went to court for the last time. All charges were dropped and a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I was 24 years old and now a father to two daughters.
Looking back, I realized I caused irreparable damage to the Gospel effort, destroyed relationships, hurt the church, put my family in real danger, and nearly ended my ministry before it really began. I embarrassed Christians in public education. I was harsh, rude, disrespectful, selfish, insulting, reckless, unteachable, foolish, drunk on this strange 15-minutes of fame, and hardhearted. I was Nabal. The truly insane part is that during that season I convinced myself that I was doing this for God. I was being persecuted. After all, I thought, the school district needed God to rescue it from its godless, evolutionary, humanistic philosophy. What I didn’t realize was that I was in a fight with God. The Lord was tearing down my fortress of foolishness. The reality that I was too dumb to see, was that I was a scoffer. It would take me years to learn that. The grief that came in that learning process was nearly unbearable. I wrote letters of apology and worked to make amends, but some damage could never be repaired. To this very day, I have to own that haunting reality.
Almost 15 years later, in late 2018, I went to purchase a gun, but was denied. My background check still showed that I was bound over to circuit court. I called the courthouse with my case number. They apologized and told me it was a clerical error. It has since been corrected. My record is completely clear, but not my conscience. I have the last background check that shows the record of this saga folded inside C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity,” specifically in the chapter called “The Great Sin.” It’s a chapter all about pride. I want to forget, but I can’t and I know I shouldn’t. It would be dangerous to forget. Like the saying, those that forget history are doomed to repeat it, I would prefer not to learn this lesson again.
I tell you this story as a warning. My life still bears the scars of God yanking me out of the “seat of the scoffer.” Ray Ortlund writes, “What happens to us if we turn toward Folly? We start down a path from being [simple] to becoming hardened into a ‘scoffer’ who cannot come back.” “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain” (Proverbs 14:6). I was running down a path, becoming a full, blown, hardened Scoffer. I thank God often that He rescued me. I wish I would have learned that lesson the easy way, but I am thankful nonetheless that I learned it. If you are stuck in the critical, know-it-all chair of the Scoffer, call out to God. He and He alone can pull you out before it’s too late. Just know that the Scoffer in each of us dies a hard death; and when we think that that part of us is dead, that’s when Scoffer’s resurrection has begun.
Claire, Belle, Maverick, Ruby, Mavis,
Have you ever felt hurt? Mad. Frustrated. Abandoned. Depressed. Anxious. Lonely. Ridiculed. Angry. Skeptical. Hostile. Resentful. Jealous. Insecure. Devastated. Furious. Enraged. Scared. Disrespected. Of course, we all have at one time or another felt these things. Being in full time ministry with your Dad for 20 years now, we have endured our fair share of hurt. Both in the church, together in our marriage and in our families of origin. Hurt is a part of life. Learning how to cope with it in a healthy manner is important. I hope that by the time you leave us that you will be equipped to deal with hurt in healthy ways. But for me, for a long time I didn’t have healthy ways to cope. So there were many years when I was hurt, I would build walls up around my heart for protection. Brick by brick. I was so good at this, you’d think I was a professional bricklayer.
I was once meeting with a lady and she described it as a silo. She liked to build walls too. With my love of all things farm, I really loved this illustration. A silo is meant to keep certain things in and other things out. When I looked up the definition of a silo the first one I read was, an underground chamber in which a guided missile is kept ready for firing. When you become a silo, it sure does feel like you have a missile ready to go off at any moment inside of you! You brew and you stew. If anyone comes near your silo, that missile is aimed right at them. Another was to isolate. Man, those both kinda stung. I have found when you come to this place of hurt, building walls around your heart, it is very easy to make that seat up in your silo that of the scoffer. And like Dad so rightly said, it is covered in super glue and reeeallly hard to get out of. When we get hurt over and over we become the scoffer to protect our hearts. We don’t want anyone to get close enough to hurt us again. So we scoff and keep them away.
What does a scoffer do exactly? They criticize everything and everyone. No one is good enough. How many of us have been there? (I want to insert the emoji with the lady raising her hand.) More times than I care to count. You feel like you can do everything better, that you are smarter, more capable, that everyone else is dumb, you sit in your very tall silo looking down at everyone. We say things in our head like why are they even trying that, that’s stoopid (that’s stupid with two O’s). Or why did they get that position, I would have been so much better at that job. Well of course their marriage imploded, at least mine is better than theirs. Have you seen their kids, man they are disasters…I wonder if they even pray? At least I pray for my kids. How ridiculous does all of this sound? How ridiculous do we sound when we speak through or look through the lens of the scoffer.
Don’t be a scoffer. The Lord wants us to build each other up. We are each created in the image of God. With all of our unique gifts, faults, and quirks. When we scoff at someone, we are scoffing at the Lord, the Creator. Sheesh, that one hurts. So how do we not become a scoffer? How does our tush not get glued to that seat? Or better yet, how does it get unglued? We pray. And we pray often for a soft heart. We pray that the Lord would keep our hearts soft, we pray that it doesn’t ever happen, or we pray that He would soften our hard hearts. Sometimes you have to deal with the ugly past to soften your heart. I know my heart has been hard in the past. I don’t want to go there again, and I don’t want you to end up there ever. So begin today to ask the Lord for a soft heart. Because as a wise man once said, you only get one heart. You can’t just harden a portion of it. Eventually the hardness takes over.
Forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Questions for Reflection
Who is the most critical FICTIONAL person you know? Why did you choose them?
Are you quick to give your opinion? If so, why?
Have you ever tried to correct a Scoffer? What happened?
How has pride hurt you? Your family? Church? Community?
Why does God hate pride so much?
Are there aspects of Nabal’s personality that you, regrettably, see in yourself?