To my son John Caleb and daughter Lydia, I “mock” the earth in showing just how small it is compared to the wider universe, which is itself small compared to the “bigness” and beauty and power and ultimacy of God himself. This isn’t to deny the inherent beauty and largeness of the earth, or the universe, or to deny that God himself did not give the earth its beauty, but it is to put things in context.
Listen to God himself mock idolatry in Isaiah 44:12-17:
“The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 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!”
This passage sits within a large context of serious courtroom drama. God has called all the witnesses of the nations to testify of their gods, and he triumphs over them in boasting of how great he is compared to them. He alone is the true God. He alone is the Most High. And in this flow, God, before the witnesses of these nations, even employs mockery. If we condemn such mockery, I think we are taking ourselves too seriously.
Humor seems necessary, even mandatory, for the Christian life, inasmuch as it means not taking ourselves too seriously: God is big, and we are little compared to God’s bigness. Complaining about the scuffs on our new iPhones deserves mockery. Life is short, heaven is forever. Losing this perspective, we become like Pharisees. We make the big things small, and the small things big. Christian humor helps us put these things back into perspective. A holy mockery, satire, ridicule of the absurdity of sin, seems fitting for people who love what is most lovely.
I “mock” Joseph Smith’s re-rendering of Romans 4:5 — after all, the whole context of Romans 3-4 is about God’s grace in light of the ungodliness of humanity. Smith didn’t merely botch it, he royally screwed it up, turning the meaning on its head. When we read the JST of Romans 4:5 — “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” — we should drop our jaws. We should be aghast. We should lose our breath in dismay. And then smile, and laugh! WHAT?! He did THAT?! What scorn we have for such an abuse of the text! What derision we have for a such an awful and tragic and horrific perversion of the text! Why have this attitude? Because we love the gospel! Because we love the truth! Because we love Romans!
It seems to me the main issue behind the ethics of “mockery” is whether it comes out of a deep love for what is good, true, and beautiful. If I love God and the gospel and the Mormon people, I ought to think belittling thoughts and, ultimately, have a condescending attitude toward the LDS temple. Why? Because we know just how supreme Jesus is in his fulfillment of the temple! Because we know just how silly it is to say that the LDS temple is an authentic restoration of what went on in Solomon’s temple! If my mockery of the LDS temple comes, however, out of a belittling of the dignity, value, and beauty of the LDS people, out of a lack of love for their well-being, out of a bitter contempt for the individuals, made in the image of God, then that is a whole different matter.