by David Mathis
It’s April Fools’ Day, and whatever its origins, the Scriptures have something to say about playing the fool.
There is uncertainty about how and when people began mocking the fool on the first day of April. Many think it goes back to sixteenth-century France when the nation changed from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian. April 1 had been the end of a weeklong festival celebrating the coming of Spring and with it the new year. Now the new year changed to January 1. Some refused to make the switch, or lived in rural areas and didn’t get the word, and were mocked as fools by those who made the change.
Others think the origin may be in a scribal error in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that had readers thinking the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” — and the fox’s fooling of Chauntecleer the vain cock — occurred on April 1 (when Chaucer actually meant May 2). Still others connect the day to celebrations in ancient Rome, Persia, and India.
But however murky the true origin of April Fools’ Day, what’s clear enough is the Christian teaching about what makes a person truly foolish.
Wisdom: The Skill of Living
The Book of Proverbs provides the Bible’s densest teaching about wisdom and folly, and what quickly becomes plain is that the biblical concept is radically God-centered.
God himself is the source of wisdom. Thus, it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 2.5″ data-version=”esv”>2:5; Proverbs 8.13″ data-version=”esv”>8:13; Proverbs 9.10″ data-version=”esv”>9:10; Proverbs 15.33″ data-version=”esv”>15:33). True wisdom begins with God and has its constant source and supply in God. So, says Tremper Longman, Proverbs teaches us that “relationship precedes ethics” (Intro to the OT, 269).
According to Longman, “wise” is the biblical word to “describe the person who navigates life well” (How to Read Proverbs, 13). Wisdom is
the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us.
Wisdom is not intelligence pure and simple. . . . Biblical wisdom is much closer to the idea of emotional intelligence than it is to Intelligence Quotient. Wisdom is a skill, a “knowing how”; it is not raw intellect, a “knowing that.” (14-16)
The biblical concept of wisdom is, in large measure, analogous with the idea of maturity. The wise person is one who is mature in his knowledge of God — based on God’s self-revelation — as well as his understanding of himself and his surroundings. The wise person is able to “navigate life well,” in the real world, as defined by God in the Scriptures.
The Folly of Not Navigating Well
Meanwhile, the fool does not possess such skill. He does not navigate life well in God’s universe, from God’s perspective, in God’s categories. The very essence of foolishness is the suppression of God’s truth (Romans 1:18).
Folly is not just silly, but sinful (Psalm 69:5).
The fool despises instruction, even from the ones who love them most (Proverbs 15:5).
While the wise have learned the beauty and value of righteousness, “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Proverbs 10:23).
A fool is “like an archer who wounds everyone” (Proverbs 26:10).
Prideful, Mouthy, and Alone
Because the biblical notions of wisdom and folly are God-centered, at the very heart of folly is pride and self-sufficiency. The fool is arrogant, and the arrogant are fools. The fool says in his heart there is no God — and sees no need for God, quite frankly. The fool is “wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:12). He feels that he has all his ducks in a row and doesn’t need others’ input — especially not God’s instruction.
The fool is more the talker, less the listener. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
While the wise aggressively listen and long for the counsel of others — and “the wise of heart will receive commandments” — ruin comes to “a babbling fool” (Proverbs 10:8).
The fool not only suppresses his need for God’s words, but also for the counsel of others. “A wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
All the Treasures of Wisdom
For the Christian, the radical God-centeredness of wisdom in the Proverbs takes a radically Christ-centered shape in the New Testament.
Jesus himself, as the fullest and final revelation of God (John 1:18).
If wisdom is the ability to navigate life well, in God’s world, on God’s terms, now we see that it can be nothing less than having him who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only one through whom we may come to the Father (John 14:6).
Only in Jesus can those born into folly, increasingly manifesting foolishness, on a crash course for destruction, be set free to true wisdom and ultimate life. “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Only in Jesus can we truly have Wisdom and then be sufficiently changed to not merely mock folly, but pity the fool.