I have just started reading a book of devotions based on Proverbs, The way of wisdom by Tim Keller. I have always loved reading proverbs but found there is so much depth to the book I feel I am only scratching the surface. This book is therefore extremely helpful. Sometimes too helpful. Shining its light in dark places. As Keller says, “If the Bible were a medicine cabinet, Psalms would be the ointment put on inflamed skin to calm and heal it. Proverbs would be more like smelling salts to startle you into alertness.”
This is an example. Keller points out that Proverbs exalts the wise and encourages us to grow in wisdom. He points out that the opposite of the wise is a fool. He then unpacks different types of fool. It made me realise how foolish I am! Which do you relate to?
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)
Three kinds of fools are mentioned in this verse. The mockers prove it is not mental capacity but attitude that determines whether we become wise or foolish. At the root of mockers’ character is a high pride that hates submitting to anyone (21:24). Their strategy is to debunk everything, acting very smug and knowing in the process. Mockers, though fools, appear to most eyes as worldly-wise and highly sophisticated. Some things, of course, deserve critique and even satire. Even God mocks sometimes. However, to “sit in the company of mockers” (Psalm 1:1) is to make cynicism and sneering a habitual response. Habitual mocking will harden you and poison relationships. “To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” We live in a postmodern age that encourages deconstruction and in an Internet age that makes mocking and scoffing easy and reasoned discourse difficult. So we must resist the enormous cultural pressure to become mockers. Contrast this with Jesus: “He will not quarrel or cry out. … A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory” (Matthew 12:19–20). When have you been tempted to roll your eyes and dismiss someone rather than engaging with them?
Every sort of fool is out of touch with reality, but each kind in a different way. The next fool in this list is the simple. This kind of foolishness is gullibility. “The simple believe anything” (14:15). They are too easily led and influenced. Like children, they may be over impressed by the spectacular and dramatic, or they may need approval too much and so be taken in by forceful personalities who give it to them. They will support dictatorial leaders who promise them peace and prosperity. They can be intellectually lazy, not wanting to ponder and think out a matter. They are also likely to fall for get rich quick schemes (12:11). The simple can change and learn sense (19:25) but they can also “inherit folly” (14:18)—graduate into being full-blown fools. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to equate credulity and naïveté with a lack of sophistication. We once pastored an entire congregation of somewhat unsophisticated people, but they were by no means simple. You can lack sophistication, as the world assesses it, and still be wise. And you can be sophisticated—well-off, well connected, and educated—but still be simple. Whom have you met who you thought was rather simple but turned out not to be so? What traits did they reveal?
The most common word used for fools in Proverbs is the obstinate. The main mark of fools is that they are opinionated, wise in their own eyes, unable to learn knowledge or be corrected. Child psychologist Jerome Kagan discovered that children are born with one of three basic temperaments that determine how they instinctively respond to difficulty. Some respond with anxiety and withdrawal, some with aggression and assertive action, and some with optimism and an effort to win through by being social and cordial. Each default works well in some situations. But Kagan argued that, unless parents intervene, children’s natural temperament will dominate, and they won’t learn how to act wisely in situations in which their habitual response is inappropriate or even deadly. In other words, we are naturally obstinate and unwise. Modern culture insists that we should let children be themselves, but what feels most natural to us might be disastrous (22:15). To become wise, the anxious must learn to be bolder, the bold to be cautious, and the chronically sunny to be more thoughtful. Only in Jesus do we see one who does not habitually assert or withdraw but always responds appropriately to the situation with perfect wisdom (John 11:23–25, 32–35). Where are you most opinionated and least open to new ideas or criticism?
Having read this, like me, do you realise you are more foolish than you thought? I think that is the first step to becoming wiser!
Written by Tony Thompson