Christian Living,  Church,  Culture

A Mark of the Fool is Lack of Understanding

Recently, a meme was circulating on social media, which had a picture on top and on the bottom. The photo on top showed Prince William making an obscene gesture to the crowd by holding up his middle finger. We could see the disrespect and arrogance oozing from the photo. However, the image on the bottom showed a different angle of the same situation. From this new perspective, we observe that the gesture was not obscene at all. Instead, it became evident that the initial view prohibited us from seeing the other fingers. The caption for the meme read, “Seeing only one side can be very dangerous.”

photo of prince william from two angles

I like this meme because it illustrates two aspects of biblical wisdom. First, there are many scenarios where our first impressions or perceptions are incorrect. Only through gaining a complete perspective can we be sure of what we are looking at. Second, wisdom obligates us to seek to understand a situation. It is the mark of a fool who doesn’t care to understand.

The Fool Doesn’t Care about Understanding

One of the things that stands out in wisdom literature is that the fool doesn’t care about understanding an issue. The fool regularly talks about something without examining it. This is the hallmark of the fool. Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

In other words, the fool already thinks he knows enough. He already thinks his opinion is the most valuable. Therefore, he is not interested in understanding an issue correctly but instead declares his viewpoint. The fool is described later in Proverbs 18 as one who answers before he finishes hearing what the wise man has to say! Proverbs 18:13 says, “One who gives an answer before he hears, It is foolishness and shame to him.”

The implication of Proverbs 18:13 is that someone is saying something important, but the fool jumps in and interrupts. Other Israelite extrabiblical literature also recognized this kind of display was a problem. Sirach 11:8 admonishes, “Do not answer before you hear, and do not insert yourself in the midst of words.” The fool justifies the interruption because he has determined it is not worth listening to, even before hearing it! He has decided he has understood the situation completely.

Wisdom and the Obligation to Understand

In contrast to the fool, Proverbs describes the obligation to understand a situation completely. In Proverbs 18:17 the teacher writes, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

This verse describes a typical scenario where a dispute arises. The one who presents his case at the outset makes a compelling argument, but there is always more to a story. Thus, the wisdom teacher commends the cross-examination process. In so doing, the defendant reveals additional detail or perhaps corrects previous claims. This principle is actually built into Israelite law. Deuteronomy 19:16-18 describes this process where both the accuser and defendant are obligated to stand before the judges and make their case. It was vital in Israelite Law that both sides would present their arguments so the judges could understand the situation and find out the truth.

Christians and the Desire to Understand

I am concerned by many Christians who often exhibit characteristics of the fool. For example, many Christians read a headline on social media and assume they know everything relevant to that situation. Or, perhaps even more dangerous, some Christians believe they know the ins and outs of a theological position without spending adequate time diving into the details. These are both problematic for the Christian and evidence of one who is not concerned with understanding. The wise Christian will invest time and energy in understanding a situation or a theological position to evaluate it properly. We should all strive for that attitude. The mark of a fool is a lack of desire to understand.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

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