What the Book of Proverbs has to say to us of the times in which we live

“Notre Dame Paris front facade lower” by Benh LIEU SONG – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We are currently reading from the Book of Proverbs in the Office of Readings. 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 sometimes 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 a dismissal of our opponents through “name calling” and ridicule.

To the modern mind, the term “fool” is demeaning and hurtful. In modern usage, “fool” tends to refer to those who are irredeemably stupid, who are buffoons, who are idiots lacking in any common sense—who are dumb as rocks and just plain stupid.

However when the Scriptures use the term “fool” it is set forth 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 as “fool.” Let’s look at two of those.

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

  1. those who despise wisdom and discipline – Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 15:5;
  2. those who mock at guilt – Proverbs 14:9;
  3. those who are quarrelsome –  Proverbs 20:3;
  4. those who are licentious – Proverbs 7:22;
  5. or those for whom attempted instruction is folly – 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, a dullard, a fool; but more contextually the word means

  1. one who hates knowledge – Proverbs 1:22;
  2. one who delights not in understanding – Proverbs 18:2;
  3. one who loves to do mischief – Proverbs 10:23, Proverbs 12:23, Proverbs 15:2;
  4. or one who feeds on the mischief of others –  Proverbs 15:14.

Thus we are dealing not with someone who is stupid per se, but rather one whose stance is against what is reasonable, holy, orderly, and wise. Such people may have intelligence and wide knowledge about many things of the world. Thus they are not stupid per se. Rather, their stance is against Godly Wisdom; they are set against what matters to God and are rooted in the passing things of the world that are of darkness. They base their lives on transitory 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. And while it not a flattering portrayal, neither is it mere name-calling. Rather, it is descriptive. “Fools” are those who set themselves against wisdom; they are not merely “stupid” people.

With that in mind, let’s examine a few of the proverbs read in this week’s Office that help 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 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 to those who love wisdom. His Commandments are not prison walls; they are defending walls. His commands do not limit freedom so much as they 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, any stated limits, any authority that tries to limit what I want to do is seen as something hateful. It is seen as something punishing—like a rod on the back.

And thus many today are not simply indifferent to God’s wisdom as proclaimed 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 overthrownA 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 is true 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, many political ideol0gies, erring trends, and  misguided philosophies—all sorts of newfangled ideas have come and gone. Yet 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, and 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, strife, inner conflict, or any number of resentments rooted in the false hopes promised by evil—but those who practice it will fare badly.

Only those who walk in honesty and in the truth—time-tested truth taught by God himself—will walk securely. They will have trials to be sure, but even these difficulties will help them reach their goal if they follow 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 remain 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 division, both inwardly and collectively. But God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed, brings peace by insisting on what is good, right, true, and beautiful.

We live in an age that winks at evil. In other words, the world finds evil funny and often celebrates it in visual entertainment, written media, music, and 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 are ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). And hence many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom conceal their violence with 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 to follow God’s wisdom, the rewards they receive are to be shared generously with others. The gains of the wicked, however, lead to sin such as gluttony, greed, hoarding, and other excesses. Rather than share their abundance with others, they spend it on the flesh, and they place their trust and reliance on the creature rather than on 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 non-stop communication and 24/7 news reporting, the sin of gossip is almost endlessly available. Discretion is lost, and almost everyone thinks he has a right to know everything about everyone else. The people’s “right to know,” seems to have no limits.

And in our age of many words and 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 a scandal sheet or website for the latest gossip?

Rare indeed are those who “restrain their lips” and cover their eyes and ears to what is sinful or merely intriguing.

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 in many other forms of communication, fornication, adultery, and other kinds of sexual misconduct are normalized—even celebrated.

It is the same with violence. Most of our adventure movies glamorize 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 on his arm and the burning city in the background—roll credits.

We also glorify mobsters and others who participate in 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 are not mafiosi.  Sadly there is fornication and adultery, as well as participation in homosexual acts. But in real life, they are not committed without consequences the way movies depict. 

Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, truth, chastity, strong families, and so forth? They are out there, but too often they are eclipsed by the far more numerous ones 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, and 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 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—evil cannot last.

These are just a few Proverbs that speak to our times and help us to 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 do make good sense.

4 Replies to “What the Book of Proverbs has to say to us of the times in which we live”

  1. Thank you, Monsignor. I must absolutely stop reading gossip tabloids while in line at the supermarket. I want to be virtuous and not set a bad example to my children by reading about celebrities I’m sure to never meet.

    1. One of the positives of reading about celebrities is that they provide a good example of foolish behavior and why it should be avoided.

      I attended Mass on the Feast of the great Catholic educator, St. John Bosco, on January 31. The celebrant told the congregation that if John Bosco were around today, he could straighten out Justin Bieber!

Comments are closed.