When I was growing up, both the junior high and high school I attended were ethnically diverse. This was part of the Los Angeles school system’s effort to desegregate by bussing in students from outlying areas. I wasn’t sure what it was then, but I can honestly say that one of the best things about growing up was I was exposed to the African American culture. Besides all the “yo mama” jokes (which was hilarious back then to hear guys baggin’ on each other’s mom) you would hear the word “fool” a lot. In African American culture there is a distinction between acting cool and “acting the fool”, which is a way of gaining or losing social face in the community.
What does it mean to be a fool? I’ve had a few weeks to think about how to communicate the next “type” of person in the book of Proverbs. If the vast majority cannot claim to be naive, then they must, in reality, be some kind of fool. The book of Proverbs is an instructional book intended to help shepherd the uninitiated into wisdom. In the process, we are introduced to those who are neither wise nor naive, but rather foolish as a way to tutor us into the kind of life that God intended for us to live fully. In other words, you can gain wisdom in life by watching the foolishness of others. It’s the perennial Dr. Phil question – “So how did that work out for them?” There is a spectrum of folly with no clear markers dividing one from the other but there are general categories instructing those who are listening, to learn from those who treat life casually or recklessly (by the way read Proverbs 1 in your spare time and note how “unforgiving” life can be for those who are bent on carrying out their own foolish ways).
The first “category” of fool is the person who is described in Hebrew as evil (ee-VEEL). This is the kind of person whose foolishness is connected to their pride (Prov. 14;3). Because their pride is at stake, they are easily duped or don’t give much thought to a particular action. Their pride also causes them to shut down listening to others (12:15) to the point where they do something for the sake of their will (I want to do this because it’s what I want to do). A good analogy would be to see this particular fool not as the naive child, but as the rebellious teenager who gets annoyed at others (1:7) when they try to instruct them (12:16; 15:5). They reject values because they see them as an attempt to keep them in line while they are also ready to argue about almost anything.
In people’s spiritual growth, you can pick out this kind of fool in the following ways:
- They are relatively autonomous. They aren’t connected into a small group of people where they not only receive gentle counsel and correction from others. They are largely consuming individuals who come to church and have no significant connection with others. While pride is not evident on the surface, the idea of willingly letting others into their life and sometimes cross their will is unappealing.
- They are don’t like to be taught. The force of pride in their life makes it very difficult for them to admit that they need guidance in how to live life. As one result, if they read the Bible at all, it is not with an open heart with the prayer, “Lord, teach me.” They don’t come to worship on Sunday morning with a sense of “Lord, I need to hear from you.” The inability to ask these questions only reinforces, in the words of philosopher Charles Taylor, the pride of their “buffered life”.
- They do not listen to others. Instead they share all they know about religion, politics, current events, philosophy, even down to how to change the oil in your car. At no point do they remotely show interest in another’s thoughts because they are too busy telling others what they know. In some cases, on both the religious right and left, they know so much about politics and religion to be on the boorish side as they try to demonstrate they have their act together.
- They like arguing with others. Similar to the previous point, they prefer an argument rather than a discussion. The words, the tone, the topic all indicate an immaturity (read foolishness) that wants to masquerade as adult-like, yet comes off juvenile (and/or uncivil, abrasive).
- The irony is that despite their strong opinions they have thought little about the best way to live life. Rather, in their stupidity they have simply adopted a course of life with very little reflection, yet chatter on endlessly about subject matters.
What descriptions fit you? Next time: The fool who is lazy