When You Know a Foolish Person
Once you know you are dealing with a biblically defined fool, be careful. Your association with him or her (1) is filled with dangers: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12).
A further warning is given in Proverbs 27:3, “Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.” Dealing with a fool can be a huge burden. So, what do we do?
We should avoid foolish people whenever possible. “Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips” (Proverbs 14:7). There are passages other than those in Proverbs that advise us to stay away from those who are not subject to God, his wisdom, and his truth (see Psalm 26:4-5, Romans 16:17-18, Ephesians 5:6-7, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 John 9-11). Sometimes this will mean changing jobs or withdrawing from a friendship. At other times (marriage, for example), we may need to remain in relationship, but learn biblical ways to protect ourselves. Read on . . .
“Like cutting off one’s feet or drinking violence is the sending of a message by the hand of a fool” (Proverbs 26:6). This verse tells us a foolish person cannot be counted on to do a job within the biblically defined way of wisdom. “Like a lame man’s legs that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Proverbs 26:7). This verse teaches we can’t trust a fool with information. A proverb in the mouth of a fool is likely to get twisted, misinterpreted, and misapplied. There are many foolish people who know the Bible and quote Scripture, but they may take it out of context or interpret it in a way that proves their point, not God’s. If we want to know truth and convey truth, we must know we can’t trust a fool’s version of “truth”.
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). While these verses seem to be contradictory, they are not. The wisdom writers are telling us that dealing with fools requires judgment. There is no one way to handle every foolish person. There are times when we simply don’t engage when a person is talking foolishness (v.4). There are other times, we are called to confront him (v.5). It’s hard to know when to speak truth and when to simply be silent, but over time and by God’s grace, we learn.
“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse” (Proverbs 9:7-8). We can acknowledge the way of a fool without approving of her or her behavior. If you try to correct her, she’ll likely lash out instead of accepting the truth of what you say. She’ll make all the problems in the relationships your fault, not hers. She might even laugh at you, belittle you, or call you names. After you listen over time to his accusations and rationalizations, you might begin to feel that you are “crazy” or stupid. It takes a strong person to relate biblically to a foolish person (see also Proverbs 23:9).
The Bible is clear we are not going to be the change agents in the life of a fool (Proverbs 17:22). Only God can reach far enough into the distorted thinking to enable a true heart change. We have to leave fool-changing to him. (2)
Don’t get mad.
“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11). Often a fool is not rational. He can be loud, he rages, and he’s sure he’s right. It’s hard to answer softly, not to get drawn into the fray. As Proverbs 18:10 promises, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” When our fool rages, we must learn to inwardly run to God. He will meet us, protect us, and offer balm for our wounds.
We must learn to put our trust in God and not in our own wisdom in knowing how to handle the situations a fool will create. “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe” (Proverbs 28:26). Those who relate consistently to a fool can find themselves becoming angry, anxious, tired, cautious, and depressed. Fools are dangerous, and that is why the wisdom writers warn us about them. But if we trust God, he will lead us to respond appropriately to our fools and, if needed for our safety, to find a way to extricate ourselves (either emotionally or physically) from the relationship. (3)
“Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:14). Our hope is in God alone. He gives wisdom provides hope even if we find ourselves in seemingly hopeless situations. We have a protector, a healer, and a guide. He is the giver of wisdom and strength. And wisdom is the only way to counter foolishness.
(1) We are alternating pronouns throughout to indicate that fools can be either male or female.
(2) For more on this topic, you may want to read People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck.
(3) We advise that any such moves be enacted under the guidance of an experienced Christian counselor.