Foolishness

Posted 7/29/2018

Scripture: Psalm 14

It has been said “Foolishness is doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.” Fools and foolishness are the subject of many of popular sayings and a subject that often appears in books. Consider these sayings and quotes:

A fool and his money are soon parted. 

“The fool attempts to predict the next big wave while ignoring the tide.” ― Fahad Basheer

“Only a foolish child would go swimming in the river that swallowed his father.” ― Bamigboye Olurotimi

“Foolproof systems don't take into account the ingenuity of fools” ― Gene Brown

“The biggest fool is one who minds the business of others rather than minding his very own” ― Amit Abraham

“A fool can't help but be a fool, but when others follow, he makes a fool of us all.” ― DaShanne Stokes

Scripture has it’s own definition of foolishness — a definition we hear in our Psalm for today: “Fools say in their heart ‘There is no God.’” In the Bible, utter folly is to deny or ignore the existence of God. But this folly doesn’t consist in simply intellectually saying “God doesn’t exist.” Just as in popular thought, where foolishness is revealed in what one does, so folly in the Biblical understanding is a matter of how we live. It is seen in our behavior.

Notice, Scripture doesn’t say foolishness is to have intellectual doubts about God’s existence. Simply wondering about God’s existence isn’t what is in view here. This “say[ing] in [one’s] heart “There is no God” goes to a much deeper level of our existence than mere thought.

In Scripture, foolishness — saying there is no God — is to say we are not accountable to God for how we live. It is to assume that we can do whatever we want to do without any real consequences. It is especially to feel there are no eternal consequences. Such foolishness — such a refusal to recognize that we are accountable to God — leads to an “anything goes” mentality that inevitably invites one to go against God’s moral order.

While we need to acknowledge that what we think — whether we think God exists or not — is important; what kind of God we believe in is just — or even more — important. That is why the point in the Psalmist’s words are not simply about an intellectual assent to the existence of God. As Scripture says in James, even the demons believe in God (James 2:19). Simply believing God exists is not the problem that the Psalmist is addressing.

Rather the real problem — the foolishness of which this Psalm speaks — is found in not believing God provides a moral order by which we are to live. It is found in an “anything goes” attitude. It is found in a failure to accept that there are consequences — divinely ordered consequences — to our actions.

It is this failure to accept the limits God imposes that formed the heart of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. The serpent suggested that God really doesn’t mean it that they will die if they eat the forbidden fruit, rather they will simply “become wise.” That is, the serpent suggested that what God has established as an ordering of creation and the consequences of breaking that order really doesn’t exist. In suggesting they will “become wise,” the serpent suggested Adam and Eve can do as they please without worrying about consequences. 

And so it is with all of Adam and Eve’s descendants. Unwillingness to believe in the God who created us leads us to deny the limits our Creator has placed upon us as His creatures. We become convinced of our own autonomy — our ability to do what we wish and to care for ourselves without any need of God. We become convinced of our own ability to decide what is right and wrong. We live as the serpent suggested we could live. Having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil we believe we alone can decide what is good and what is evil.

Yet, the truth is, we can’t determine good and evil. Despite our best efforts, we consistently fail in this as the ills and evils we so readily see in our world prove. Furthermore, in the grips of this belief that we can determine good and evil, we no longer seek after God for we believe we have no real need of God.

This is the folly of which the Psalmist speaks. A folly that seeks to define reality and the world by our own terms. A folly that recognizes no limits — that fails to acknowledge we are creatures. Such folly is at its heart simply a failure to acknowledge the Creator.

However, when we acknowledge our creatureliness we discover our need for God and God’s guidance. We know that the world has a moral order — that what we do matters. We acknowledge that we are responsible to God for our actions — that we can’t do anything we want without consequences. 

And in that we discover the wonder of the gospel — that Jesus Christ has come so that our own disobedience might be covered with his obedience and our resistance to God might be overcome by the power of his spirit. In recognizing our responsibility before God we discover, ironically, our true freedom in Christ. A freedom that is not a matter of doing what we want, but of living in harmony with all God’s creation. 

While popular notions of fools and folly provide some good advice, only the Scriptural understanding of folly can guide us into true, abundant life. So let’s put our folly behind us and live with the knowledge of God — which truly is, as Proverbs indicates, the beginning of real wisdom!