Do fools exist? What is a fool? Are you a fool? Do you know a fool? How do you relate to a fool once you’ve identified one?
And won’t you go to hell if you label someone a fool?
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22
All this talk of fools seems sort of dangerous when you read that verse. Until you read the dozens upon dozens of other verses in the Bible about them, and suddenly you realize that it is far more dangerous not to talk about them. God warns us not to be a companion of fools. How can we obey God in this area if it is sinful to identify a fool? If we insist on being naive and, dare I say it, foolish, we will very likely mishandle the fools we come across, and that will lead to all sorts and kinds of trouble in our lives. Trouble God wants us to avoid, if possible.
Have you ever dealt with a difficult person with whom you could make zero headway? No matter what the conflict between you, the other person was right every time, and you were a trouble maker who insisted on making things up in your head that simply were not true?
One night several years ago I started reading through Proverbs for what seemed like the millionth time, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. God was talking about real people in Proverbs. And I could identify them by their actions. As I combed through all the verses that talked about fools, I realized they were describing a person I had been dealing with for a very long time.
I felt terribly guilty just thinking those thoughts. Who was I to judge whether or not another person was a fool? That’s serious business. I didn’t want to believe it might be true. I mean, a fool is a pretty hopeless thing to be, and I cared about this person and wanted what was best for them. I wanted to make our relationship work, but this was the first time I had ever faced the fact that there was a real possibility my relationship with them could never be close—as long as the person insisted on staying in their “foolish” place.
Fast forward a few years, and a friend gives me a book: Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. This is how God sometimes reaches out and touches our lives, and I praise Him for it. He used that book to fill me with hope, because He used that book to equip me with Truth.
You see, I had believed a sackful of lies for so long. I had allowed another human being to control everything I thought about myself. If they said I was a ditzhead or “goofy” for feeling the way I did or for seeing things from a different perspective than they did- I believed them. When I tried to communicate with them, they shut me down by saying things that caused me to feel stupid and bad. If I asked them to stop doing something that was hurtful, they told me I was over-sensitive, over-reacting, and mean. If I disagreed with them, I was ridiculous and silly.
The only way to experience peace with this person was to always agree with them, never give them feedback, never question anything they did, and apologize and ask for forgiveness when I slipped up. I had to repent of my own sin (which is right and good) as well as for being the cause of their sin. (Not so right and good, but they always graciously bestowed forgiveness upon me albeit tucking a few of the worst things away to bring up again when it worked to their advantage to do so. I’ve always been a sucker for a good guilt trip.)
When I tried to talk to them about something I felt needed to change, they became angry and accused me of “always stirring up trouble.” I could not get close to this person, yet I had always believed it was my responsibility as a good Christian to do so. I felt caught and confused with no way through the maze.
What a relief to discover the truth! The truth of the matter is that I was being played over and over, when God had made it crystal clear in His Word how to handle folks like this. But how can one know what to do if one diagnoses the problem all wrong? And because of my belief that it would be wrong to label anyone a fool—after all, we are all sinners, right?—I was not able to see the clear, Biblical answers to my dilemma.
Let me just clear up that little lie right off the bat. The lie is, “We are all sinners, therefore we have no business evaluating another person’s behaviors.” It plays out even in the most base situations. TRIGGER WARNING “Well, that man sexually abused that girl, but we’re all sinners, so who am I to judge? She’s a sinner too.”
The TRUTH is that while we are all sinners, not everyone acknowledges their sin, repents of it, and works to change it. In a relationship there are always two sinners, but if only one person is willing to admit their sin and work on it, the relationship is not going to function in a healthy way. In fact, Jan makes the point that it isn’t even a real relationship. It’s simply an arrangement. For a real relationship to develop and grow, it takes two people willing to own their own stuff and work together to meet one another’s needs for acceptance, love, and respect. Will they fail? Absolutely. But conflict and failure are not insurmountable issues as long as there is humility and repentance.
When a fool is involved, there is no humility or repentance. Why? Because, as Jan Silvious drills into your head when you read her book, “A fool is always right.” Always. And if the fool is right, what are you? Wrong. Always. Where does she get this hogwash?
Well, it comes from just thinking logically and rationally. Common sense, you know? As in, nobody can be right 100% of the time, and likewise, nobody can be wrong 100% of the time either. If you believe otherwise, your sanity comes into question. (The word “fool” comes to mind…) But she also gets it from an even more reliable source than human common sense.
She gets it from the Bible.
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
So can we know what a fool is, for sure? Does God want us to figure this out? Of course He does. There are different ways of dealing with different kinds of people. We don’t call out a loud greeting to someone in the morning. We don’t laugh around a sad person. We treat the elderly with respect. And we don’t throw pearls to swine. So let’s look at what Proverbs says about fools, and you can think about the difficult people in your own life and decide whether or not you are dealing with a fool, and what strategies you might employ if you are.
And by the way, before we start, one thing Jan is quick to point out is that everyone has foolish behaviors here and there. But not everyone is a Biblical fool. So again, the way to tell a fool from someone who behaves foolishly now and then is that the fool is never wrong—ever. A fool will never say, “Oh wow. I behaved like a fool there. I’m so sorry. That must have really hurt you. Can you forgive me? How can I make that up to you?”
So if you wonder, “Am I a fool?” You’re probably not. A fool would never wonder that. A fool would never consider the possibility they could be a fool. If they did, they would be on the road to recovery from fooldom. The sad thing is, while recognition, recovery, and change are possible for a fool, they are rare. Anything is possible with God though!
Let’s get started with a list of real “fool” characteristics from Proverbs today, but we’ll continue with our list next time. For now, here are a couple to whet your whistle, pique your interest, and tickle your tummy: (OK, not the tickle one.)
1. A fool will not accept feedback. (See verse above.)
They will make excuses. They will blame someone else. They will deny that they did anything. They will withhold information. They will accuse. They will change the subject. But they will not “listen to counsel.” A wise man does that. The fool is always right, and that means that you are always wrong. Remember?
2. A fool puts himself in the place of God.
A fool doesn’t need God because they trust in their own heart. Their heart knows what is best. The world revolves around them and what they believe to be right and true. If you bring a different perspective to the table, or even a different memory of how an event “went down,” you are wrong. Their interpretation is always the real one, of course.
Proverbs 28:26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.
Fools are often very charming and warm when they want to be. They can be generous and kind. They want you to be in their world. But once you are there, they begin to grow irritable until they either explode or draw you into a communication trap. You are left trying to figure out what you did that caused the chaos, and you try to fix it for next time. The fool gets charming again, and the whole cycle starts over. Nothing is really fixed.
I’m going to share a few more characteristics of fools in the next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to get a copy of Foolproofing Your Life. Jan has some other great books and resources on her own website HERE.