CC Image courtesy of Rachel Monroe on Flickr.
Author: Daniel Wheeler
So, do I or don’t I “answer a fool according to his folly?” This is the question in light of Proverbs 26:4-5. One verse cautions that if we do we will become fools ourselves, the second cautions that if we don’t the fool will become “wise in his own eyes.” Frustrating.
We so desperately want things to be simple. Life is complicated and navigating it equally so. Proverbs, at first glance, appeals to that desire for simple, clear instruction.
However, when we look carefully at Proverbs, we discover that living wisely is not so simple. We discover that it is not enough to know what to do, we must also know when to do it, “There is a time for everything…” says the Teacher.
So, how can we know the proper time to “answer the fool?” The text itself may provide some clues. To begin, we should note that all fools are not created equal. Some are simply naïve and don’t know any better and may yet respond to instruction. But some are fools because they are proud – these fools are “wise in their own eyes” and have rejected wise instruction because they “know better.”
Interestingly, verses 4-16 all have something to do with fools. First, in verses 6-11 we are given two examples of persons who are made fools because they trusted a fool to perform work. (26:6 and 10) Were they somehow “answering the fool according to his folly?”
Next, the phrase, “wise in his own eyes” appears in some form in verses 5, 12, and 16 – first in reference to the fool, next in contrast with the fool, and last in reference to the sluggard. Thus, linking the proud fool of verses 4 and 5 to the proud sluggard.
Finally, verses 12-16 concern the sluggard with verses 12 and 16 indicating there is more hope for a fool than a sluggard who is proud. Is this fool is beyond instruction?
So, how does this help us answer the question? Perhaps, the text is telling us what to do – answer the fool according to his folly – and when to do it – before he becomes proud – because then it will be too late. The example then is the one who will not work. Teach him to work before he becomes proud. If you try to teach him once he is proud, he will only make a fool out of you.
So, do I or don’t I? It depends and only God can provide the answer. Frustrating. The good news is that he is faithful to do it, if we will ask and listen.
May God give us wisdom to know how and when to act – that our knowledge may be used effectively, in ways that bless and lead to righteousness.