We are reading from the Book of Proverbs in the Office of Readings just now. In it are many good descriptions, or maxims that state well what we who are believers and seek wisdom are up against. They have a lot to say of the times in which we live.
I’d like to review a few of the sayings that came up Wednesday in the Office. But before doing so it seems necessary to fend off a possible misunderstanding that some times results from the distinction in the Wisdom tradition between the wise one and the “fool.” Without a richer understanding of the term “fool” it is possible for some to think the term a mere ad hominem attack, or dismissal of our opponents through “name calling” and ridicule.
To the modern mind, the term “fool” is demeaning and hurtful. “Fool” tends to refer in modern usage to those are irredeemably stupid, who are buffoons, idiots lacking in any common sense, dumb as rocks and just plain stupid.
However when the Scriptures use the term “fool” is it set in distinction to the wise and to wisdom. As such, it is a more nuanced word, more descriptive of a rejection of wisdom, rather than merely pejorative. There are several Hebrew words in Proverbs and other places that are translated “fool.” Lets look for a moment at two.
The First Hebrew root of “fool” is אֱוִיל (ewil) and is from a root word meaning “to be perverse;” or figuratively, silly and lacking in reflection. More contextually the word means those who:
- despise wisdom & discipline – Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 15:5;
- mock at guilt – Proverbs 14:9;
- are quarrelsome - Proverbs 20:3;
- are licentious – Proverbs 7:22;
- and for whom it is folly & useless to instruct – Proverbs 16:22; Proverbs 27:22; Jeremiah 4:22; Job 5:2,3; Isaiah 19:11; Psalm 107:17.
Another Hebrew root is כְּסִיל (kasal) meaning a stupid fellow, dullard, a fool; – But more contextually the word means one who:
- hates knowledge – Proverbs 1:22;
- delights not in understanding – Proverbs 18:2;
- loves to do mischief – Proverbs 10:23; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 15:2,
- and feeds on the mischief of others - Proverbs 15:14.
Thus we are dealing with someone who is not stupid per se, but whose stance is against what is reasonable, holy, orderly and wise. Such people may have intelligence and wide knowledge about many things int eh world. Hence they are not stupid per se. Rather, their stance is against Godly Wisdom, they are set against what matters to God and rooted in the passing things of the world that are of darkness and are passing. They base their lives on passing and frivolous things which cannot be the true basis for salvation.
The Latin Vulgate often uses the word insipiens (unwise) to refer to foolishness, i.e. the setting of oneself against wisdom.
Hence simply thinking that fool means “stupid” fails to grasp the nuance of what is said. While it not a flattering attestation, neither is it mere name-calling. Rather it is descriptive. “Fools” are those who set themselves against wisdom, not merely “stupid” people.
With that in mind let’s examine a few of the proverbs read in this week’s office that helps explain what God’s Church and those who seek wisdom are up against. The maxims are all from the 10th Chapter of Proverbs. My comments are in plain red text.
1. Blessings are for the head of the just, but a rod for the back of the fool. (Prov 10:6) -
God’s law is a great blessing for those who love wisdom. His Commandments are not prison walls, they are defending walls. His commands do not limit freedom so much as frame it within necessary limits.
But for the foolish, for those who hate and despise God’s wisdom, for those who hate discipline and any sense of reasonable limits, God’s law, and any stated limits, any authority beyond what “I want to do” is seen as something hateful. It is seen something punishing, like a rod on the back.
And thus many today are not simply indifferent to God’s wisdom as proclaim by the Church and Scripture, even more, they are openly hostile to it!
It is as though people have been sitting in a very dark room are suddenly overwhelmed by bright lights and cry out in protest. They despise the light and protest its presence as something hateful, and hurtful. Jesus lamented them when he said And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19).
Yes, to those who despise God’s wisdom, rather then a brilliant and beautiful light, A blessing for the mind to contemplate, it feels like a punishing rod on the back.
2. A wise man heeds commands, but a prating fool will be overthrown. A path to life is his who heeds admonition, but he who disregards reproof goes astray. (Proverbs 10:8, 17) -
The wise listen to instruction and strive to base their life upon it. The wise humbly accept that they do not know all things and must be taught by God.
But fools, those who hate wisdom, talk on and on about their own opinions. They believe anything, simply because they think it.
There is little reasoning with them for although they scoff at religious truth as mere “religion” it is really they who exhibit a far more extreme version of “blind faith” than any Christian believer who sees faith and reason as compatible.
The text says their end is destruction. In the age of the Church any number of political philosophies, erring trends and philosophies, all sorts of newfangled ideas have come and gone. The Church remains, and the wisdom and the Word of the Lord endures forever.
3. He who walks honestly walks securely, but he whose ways are crooked will fare badly (Prov 10:9) -
Evil has its hour. It rises, seems glamorous to many, is praised and paraded about as some sort of new form of liberation.
But evil cannot last, and those who practice it will fare badly. Perhaps it is addiction, disease, or strife, inner conflicts, or any number of resentments rooted in the false hopes promised by evil and not forth-coming, but those who practice it will fare badly.
Only those who walk in the honesty and truth, a time-tested truth, taught by God himself will walk securely. They will have trials, to be sure, but even these will help them reach their goal when they follow what is time-tested wisdom.
4. He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Prov 10:10) -
There is great pressure from many sectors today to stay silent about sin, about evil. Those who do speak of sin are called judgmental and intolerant. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to the pressure and started winking at faults. Nothing but trouble results. The moral cesspool of the modern age shows this.
The correction of faults frankly and with love is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, an act of charity. Error and sin bring war and divisions both inwardly and collectively. But God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed and with clarity brings peace by insisting and what is good, right, true and beautiful.
We live in an age that winks at evil. In other words, it finds evil funny, and often celebrates it in visual entertainment, written media, in music and in other ways. The destructiveness of glamorizing evil is apparent if one simply buys a newspaper or turns on the news for five minutes.
God’s law, is his peace plan for this broken world of ours, it is his wisdom that will bring us peace.
5. A fountain of life is the mouth of the just, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11) -
Jesus warned that Satan and those who are evil often masquerade about in sheep’s clothing, but underneath the ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). And hence, many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom, conceal their violence in euphemisms such as “pro-choice,” “no-fault divorce,” “reproductive freedom.” “euthanasia,” “death with dignity” and so forth.
Despite the euphemisms and their cloak of pseudo-compassion they ultimately peddle death and division. God’s wisdom on the other hand speaks to the dignity of every human life, hope and promise of life, even with its difficulties.
6. The just man’s recompense leads to life, the gains of the wicked, to sin (Proverbs 10: 16) -
For those who are striving to be just and follow God’s wisdom, the rewards they receive are to be generously shared with others. The gains of the wicked however lead to sin, such as gluttony, greed, hoarding, and many sinful excesses. Rather than share their abundance with others they spend it on the flesh, and place their trust and reliance on the creature, rather than the Creator who is blessed forever amen.
7. Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well (Proverbs 10:19) -
In an age of communication, 24/7 news cycles, and almost endless reportage, the sin of gossip is almost endlessly available. Discretion is lost, and almost everyone thinks they have a right to know everything about everyone. The “people’s right to know,” seems to have no limits.
And in our age of many words, many media, visual, verbal, musical, etc. sin is not wanting on account of this. We talk endlessly about other people’s business and often wholly ignore our own issues. Why stay in our own lane when we can tune in at 11 or go to the latest scandal sheet or website.
Rare indeed are those who “do well” by restraining their lips and covering their ears and eyes to what is sinful or merely intrigue.
8. Crime is the entertainment of the fool; so is wisdom for the man of sense (Proverbs 10:23) -
Too easily our culture celebrates as entertainment the sins of others. On television, in the cinema and many other forms of communication, fornication, adultery and other sexual misconduct are celebrated and normalized.
It is the same with violence. Most of our adventure movies celebrate the use of violence to solve problems. An injustice occurs and our “hero” after 90 minutes of killing people, breaking things and blowing up buildings, has a final showdown with the unambiguously evil enemy, kills him and walks away with the girl in his arm, burning city in the background, roll credits.
We also glorify mobsters and many other forms of crime and violence.
Some will argue that the cinema should reflect life. Fine, but most people are not killing other people, burning cities, crashing cars, blowing up buildings, and mafiosi. Sadly there is fornication and adultery, as well as homosexual acts. But they are not committed without consequences as the movies show.
Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, and truth, chastity, strong families, and so forth? They are out there, but too often they are eclipsed by the far more numerous things that celebrate crime, violence, dysfunction and sinfulness.
9. When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever (Proverbs 10:25) -
The Church alone is indefectible, by the promise of Jesus Christ. although evil movements, political forces, sinful regimes, etc. rise and boast of their power, they eventually fall. As noted, the Church has seen empires rise and fall, philosophies come and go. Evil men have threatened the Church with destruction for thousands of years now and we have read the funeral rites over every one of our enemies.
The truth will out. Evil will not remain, it cannot last. Christ has already won the victory.
The foolish keep resisting; they laugh at God’s wisdom, dismiss the Scriptures, and ridicule the Church. When they are gone, we will still be here proclaiming Christ and him crucified, gloriously resurrected and ascended to glory.
Those who mock this, resist the consistent message of history. Jesus is Lord, and though he permits his enemies time to repent, their days are ultimately numbered, and evil cannot last.
Just a few Proverbs that speak to our times and help decode what God has to say of many modern trends.
Here’s a video with some modern sayings. In posting this I do not affirm every saying, but some make good sense.