Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 January 2019

The Proverbial Fool

For the longest I thought a “proverbial fool” was simply a colorful description of people who just didn’t get it. Whatever “it” is.

Then I looked up “fool” in a thesaurus and found a few more descriptions (PG13 alert):

“idiot, ass, blockhead, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, imbecile, cretin, dullard, simpleton, moron, clod, nitwit, halfwit, dope, ninny, nincompoop, chump, dimwit, dingbat, dipstick, goober, coot, goon, dumbo, dummy, ditz, dumdum, fathead, butthead, numbskull, numbnuts, dunderhead, thickhead, airhead, flake, lamebrain, mouth-breather, zombie, nerd, peabrain, birdbrain, scissorbill, jughead, jerk, donkey, twit, goat, dork, twerp, lamer, schmuck, bozo, boob, turkey, schlep, chowderhead, dumbhead, goofball, goof, goofus, doofus, hoser, galoot, lummox, knuckle-dragger, klutz, putz, schlemiel, sap, meatball, dumb clucklook”

I always thought “nerd” indicated highly specialized intelligence and “goofball” and “turkey” were terms of endearment. Apparently I AM a fool. 

My devotional this year is Tim Keller’s excellent book on God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. It’s a one year study of the book of Proverbs. In the first 16 days of January I gained a better understanding foolishness by first understanding wisdom.

Insert another name for me here ___________________ about it taking me more than two weeks to figure this out. Give me a break. It took me way more than two decades to get to this point.

Keller asserts that the main word for “wisdom” in Proverbs means making the right choice even when there are no clear moral laws telling you what to do. I hate it when there’s no list of answers posted somewhere.

Some decisions require knowledge; others, only compliance with rules. No Bible verse will tell you exactly who to marry, what job to take, what investment to make – or avoid at all costs, or where to live. And there are no moral laws against character flaws, but those flaws can make a mess of your life and those around you.

So what are the basics for wisdom? Keller highlights discipline, discernment, discretion, and knowledge as the common building blocks for a wise person.

Discipline often comes from suffering – from entering the struggle and hanging in, even though it’s not fun. Most of us opt for fun over suffering. Wisdom comes from taking a risk and learning from suffering often caused by mistakes. And it comes from hanging in there with a friend who confronts you over mistakes. 

Discernment comes from a recognition of shades of gray in a world clamoring for black and white (or red and blue). But it also comes from seeing more than just the gray. It’s developed by avoiding the hard, legalistic world of rule following AND a soft, relativistic world without absolutes. Wisdom comes from the insight to recognize multiple options when none are just right – and developing your heart to look into the hearts of others. 

Discretion comes from a keenly developed sense of prudence. That doesn’t mean avoiding risk. While discernment is a form of insight, discretion is a form of foresight. Since I’m writing this for Maggie, Sabine, and Zadie, I slightly restate what I learned in pilot training many decades ago: an excellent pilot is one who uses her excellent judgement to avoid situations that require use of her excellent skill and her excellent knowledge.

Finally there’s knowledge. Knowledge is not everything, but it is something. We can be moral but still unwise. We can be knowledgeable but still foolish. There can be knowledge without wisdom. There can be no wisdom without knowledge. Proverbs calls earnestly for us to add to our learning. The study never ends. 

Keller concludes: “Wisdom is wedding thought and experience to become competent with regard to the realities of life.” And it’s about study. A life of continuous learning – especially in a world of rapid change. Keller contends that true wisdom requires deep knowledge of the Scriptures.

My knowledge is far from deep; my wisdom, far from true. Maybe this dig into just one book of the Bible will help.

Next time: the proverbial fool.

Hint: I’m thinking of someone else in January 2019, but need to look in the mirror first.


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