Have you noticed foolishness on the increase in our society today? Seems it’s growing in epidemic proportions, whether on TV, social media, personal conversations, public debates, even from the pulpits of more than a few churches. Sometimes you can’t help thinking, “Huh? Say what?! Are you serious?”
I won’t get into specifics, because I’m aware that what one person perceives as foolishness is what someone else understands as good sense. Kind of like one man’s junk being another man’s treasure. But recently I came across some good suggestions on how to deal with fools and their folly whenever you encounter them.
For many years I’ve made an almost-daily practice of reading the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the date of the month. So the day I’m writing this, I’ve turned to the 26thchapter of Proverbs, which has much to say about fools and folly. Obviously, foolishness isn’t an innovation of the 20th or 21st centuries. King Solomon, who wrote much of Proverbs, had to cope with his share of fools several thousand years ago. He demonstrated foolishness at times in his own life. So he devoted portions of several chapters to sharing his conclusions.
Proverbs aren’t written as commands, but rather as principles. Or probabilities. Even if you never read any other parts of the Bible, from the book of Proverbs you can glean an abundance of insights into the human condition and practical wisdom on how to live. What struck me most as I read this particular chapter were verses 4 and 5, which at first glance seem to contradict each other. Except they don’t.
They advise, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Uh, okay, Solomon, which is it? Should we respond to a foolish person, or not? I believe the answer the king would give is: Both.
Let’s take them one at a time. I think verse 4 is referring to folks who say something so outrageous, so off-the-wall, you’re certain they’ve just arrived from the dark side of the moon. There’s a tendency to talk down to their level in an attempt to expose their folly, but in the process we can come across as just as foolish. Being the bull-headed fellow I sometimes am, I’ve been guilty of that on more than one occasion.
To remedy that inclination, Solomon offered this reminder: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). Even if such a person physically hears what you’re saying, he or she isn’t listening. They’re not interested in learning, considering a different point of view, or having wrongful thinking corrected. So that’s why we’re admonished, “don’t answer a fool according to his folly.” Don’t respond in like manner.
However, that doesn’t mean we should always remain silent in the presence of foolishness. If we’re interacting with someone and strongly disagree with their statements or conclusions, we can attempt to point out their error. If we find they are receptive to ideas that differ from their own, we can have an honest, even cordial discussion.
There have been times in my life when someone was kind enough to point out foolish thinking on my part and, when I was willing to listen and mull over what they had to say, I’ve learned the error of my ways. At least I’ve discovered that just because I think or believe a certain way, that doesn’t mean other people don’t have reasons for thinking differently.
This is why King Solomon observed, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:23). I’m grateful for the times when God gave me enough wisdom to recognize my own foolishness when someone was caring enough to point it out.
“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word” (Proverbs 15:23). As a headstrong young man, I had my share of foolishness that needed to be exposed and expelled. I praise the Lord for sending people my way who were armed with apt replies and timely words to help in setting me straight in both my thinking and my actions.