Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day for Fools in a Foolish Age

Tomorrow, April 1, is affectionately known as “April Fool’s Day.” We’ve designated almost every date to honor something these days, ranging from corn dogs and donuts to cancer awareness and canines. So why not have a day for celebrating fools and foolishness?

For the most part it’s a harmless observance. Some people try to trick friends into believing a falsity, like saying that their shoes are untied – a bit embarrassing for someone wearing sandals who looks anyway. “April Fool’s!” But throughout history, it seems there’s been no shortage of folks willing to play the fool; some have done so extremely well.

Greek philosopher Plato commented, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” Martin Luther King Jr. sagely observed, “We must learn together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Charles Darwin reputedly stated, “I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.”

Some of the world’s famous statesmen were acutely aware of the peril of fools and foolishness. Benjamin Franklin observed, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte offered a different slant: “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”

Writers seem inclined to think about fools and foolishness a lot. For instance, Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov opined, “No psychologist should pretend to understand what he does not understand…. Only fools and charlatans know everything and understand nothing.” And French philosopher Voltaire commented, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.” American writer, editor and critic Edgar Allan Poe offered this perspective: “I have great faith in fools – self-confidence, my friends will call it.”

And there’s the famous quote of unknown origin, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Sad to admit, there was a time when that described me. The Bible speaks to this: “Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?” (Proverbs 17:16).

The Scriptures also have a lot to say about fools and their folly, but not in the funny, ha-ha, April Fool’s sense. The book of Proverbs offers dozens of verses that address the topic directly. For instance, the opening chapter declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Proverbs 10:14-15 expands on that idea: “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment. Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.”

Foolishness, the Scriptures point out, is not an exclusively masculine pitfall. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:6). Another passage, in sharp contrast with earlier verses about the virtues of wisdom, informs us, “A foolish woman is clamorous, she is simple and knows nothing. For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by…. ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.’”

Regarding family relationships, we’re told, “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20). Another passage states, “A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25). Other types of relationships are important, too, as Proverbs 13:20 points out: Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

Our society has encouraged a philosophy that excuses people from their own failures and foolish actions. When they make unwise choices, the consequences are – we’re told – always someone else’s fault. This apparently isn’t a new perspective: “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).

The Bible’s commentary on fools, folly and foolishness is not limited to Proverbs. Citing the evils of greed and self-indulgence, Jesus described a rich man who smugly determined that in his quest to accumulate more and more, he would build larger barns to store it all. In the story, the man reasoned, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:16-20).

But the greatest indictment against foolish thinking is found in Psalm 14:1, which declares, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’….” On the day when people like that stand in judgment before their Creator, April Fool’s Day will be the least of their concerns.

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