We are making our way through covid craziness with help from ancient wisdom preserved in the Book of Proverbs. But Proverbs can sometimes leave us a bit confused. Consider these two lines that are set one next to the other in the text:
Do not answer fools according to their folly Or you will be a fool yourself Answer fools according to their folly Or they will be wise in their own eyes
The sentences seem contradictory. What do the wisdom teachers who collected and arrangedthese proverbs want us to do?
The answer lies in understanding that these two sentences are displayed together because they constitute one singleproverb and that proverb isn’t about you, the reader. In my color code system they are shaded orange. They describe the fool.
There are people no one can deal with without getting sucked into the negativity that shrouds their life. No matter what you say or do it’s going to be wrong. It’s not just that they will disagree with you. Even if they act on your best advice, they’ll find a way to screw it up.
Jesus gave his disciples some startling advice. He said, “Don’t throw your pearls before swine”. (Yes, Jesus was the guy who coined that line!) Even Jesus couldn’t productively relate to some people and he didn’t expect his followers to fare any better.
So what is the wise person supposed to do? A mentor shared an insight with me. He said, “You can’t soar with the eagles while hanging out with turkeys.” The Book of Proverbs offered the same advice in a saying I code blue (the color that identifies what the wise do):
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise but the companion of fools suffers harm
While searching for cues in the Book of Proverbs that can help us navigate this age of covid, I’ve come across some interesting sayings. For example the book offers this:
Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears is one who meddles in the quarrel of another.
My first thought was, “How true!” If you’ve ever been swept up into a fight between neighbors that should have remained none of your business, you understand how that can be like grabbing a stray dog by the ears.
But then I said to myself: “Wait a minute!! Who does that?” Forget the stuff about neighbors. That part is obvious. The question is: Who grabs a stray dog by the ears? At one level the answer is easy: The Fool of course! In my system statements describing the behavior of the fool are coded orange. Anyone grabbing some “passing dog” by the ears deserves orange paint all over himself (not to mention a few bite marks).
But then a more interesting question came to mind. Why does the fool do the things he does? Why, for example, would the fool jerk any dog’s ears? Proverbs offers a simple reply:
The righteous know the needs of their animals but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Fools are mean and their treatment of animals is just one expression of that mean streak. But that poses another question: Where does the fool’s cruelty come from?
Proverbs says there are seven personal qualities that God absolutely despises.Topping that list is the quality of arrogance. More specifically Proverbs describes the quality God hates more than any other with the term “haughty eyes”. I suggest The Fool acts as he does because he has haughty eyes. He thinks he owns the place whatever place he happens to be. He disrespects the privacy of disputing neighbors for the same reason he grabs a dog’s ears. In his arrogance he respects nothing and no one. How is the wise different? It comes back to the very first Proverb, the bluest of them all (blue being the color of the wise in my system): “
Reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The essence of wisdom is reverence, a term that expresses an attitude of respect. The wise are who they are because they respect God, their neighbor and creation.