I was raised hearing that “there are no contradictions in the Bible.” My dad was hammering that message from the pulpit long before anyone heard anything of a conservative resurgence in the SBC. But then I read Scriptures and found that there is one very clear contradiction. Look at Proverbs 26:4-5.
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
There it is. Verse 4 tells me not to answer a fool according to his folly, then verse 5 contradicts that advice and gives me the opposite advice. What am I to do when I am confronted by a fool? Do I take the advice of verse 4 or verse 5?
Of course, you know I don’t think that is actually a contradiction. Solomon was not stupid. He was trying to make a point by juxtaposing these two starkly contrasted statement. The point is pretty simple. There’s a time to confront a fool and a time to leave him be. The problem is knowing when to do which.
Let’s face the facts. Blogging is a haven of fools. (Insert your joke here.) Sometimes, you stare at one in the mirror when you shave, right? I do.
I see several types of Baptist Blogging’s Blithering Blathering Blustering Bozos (sorry, got a little out of hand there). Maybe you can add your own in the comments below.
NOTE: All of these names are chosen for alliterative or illustrative value and not meant to refer to any particular blogger.
1) “Making a Name for Myself” Marvin.
This kind of blogger seems motivated to see his name in lights. He regularly toots his own horn and pushes himself forward. There is a certain amount of chutzpah in all of us who blog. What made me think that a medium to small church pastor in Iowa had something to say that the bigger world needed to hear?
But Marvin seems motivated by seeing his name in lights (or at least in bylines), by hits and comments. That self-promotional tendency seems to govern everything he does.
2) Carrion Carl
Carrion are birds that feed on dead flesh. Have you ever seen a blogger who will never let something go? An issue comes to the forefront, we talk about it and then most of us move on. But Carrion Carl keeps picking at those bones until they are clean – and then a while after that.
Move on, Carl.
3) “Burr in my saddle” Burt. (A close relative of Marvin and Carl.)
Burt is always grumpy, always complaining, always offended, always seems to have a chip on his shoulder. Poor guy has his shorts in a twist and we may not understand the pain that makes him (or her) such a pain, but it shows up in almost every comment.
Often, Burr in My Saddle Burt is a single issue grump. For him, everything comes back to Calvinism, or Inerrancy (pro or con), or Politics, or whatever. No matter what the topic, what direction the discussion takes, Burt can be trusted to bring us back to his “issues”.
4) Riley Poole.
You know Riley don’t you? That is Nicolas Cage’s sidekick in the National Treasure movies – the one who believes all the conspiracy theories.
Riley is never content to simply disagree or express an opinion. There is a powerful elite pulling all the strings and conspiring to ruin everything. Conspiracy theorists are really frustrating because any lack of evidence of the conspiracy is seen as proof of the conspiracy’s success.
Look out, Riley. They are right behind you!
5) Hijack Hannah (thought I should include a female presence here so as not to be accused of sexism)
Hannah is a friend of Burt’s and loves to get the discussion off track. A poem, a link, a name-drop or a change of topic, Hannah seeks to derail the discussion and move it in her own direction.
Hannah seldom blogs on her own. She just comes on your blog and steers it in her own direction.
6) Passive-Aggressive Paul
He always has a hidden agenda. He addresses you in a cordial, brotherly way, but then he sticks the knife in your back.
Have you heard of “vague-blogging?” It’s a Facebook term for those who publish non-specific but pointed criticisms. “Don’t you hate people who pretend to be your friend but talk about you behind your back?”
Paul is a vague-blogger. Never direct. Never specific.
Facing the Fools
One of the biggest challenges in blogging is learning to deal with fools. When we encounter fools, we often fall into some serious traps. First, we allow their folly to induce our own. I’ve fallen into that trap so often. On the playground, we claimed “he started it,” but one might have thought we would have grown past that.
Here is a biblical fact. Another’s sin (or folly) never excuses my own.
But the biggest mistake I’ve seen is the one addressed in a slightly different take in Mike Leake’s excellent “Scarecrow” article this morning – trying to straighten out everyone else and defending ourselves against the negative opinions of others. Bob Cleveland made an excellent comment on that post.
One person verbally attacked me, with a list of complaints written on the back of an envelope. All were false. When he finished, I asked for the envelope so I could, one by one, explain his misinterpretations of things he thought I’d said.
He refused to show me the list. And at that precise moment, God spoke Exodus 14:14 into my heart. As the HCSB says “The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet”. So I thanked him for his thoughts and left.
That was the end of it. We became good friends before he left the church.
May the wisdom Bob displayed there grow more common!
We all believe the Bible, right? But sometimes we believe certain verses a little less than others, don’t we? For instance, those verses about loving your enemies, returning good for evil and doing good to those who persecute you. They don’t really apply to blogging, do they? No, we prefer to wear out Matthew 23 where Jesus excoriates the Pharisees.
Let me remind you of something you know. In Scripture, God lays claim to the divine right of vengeance.
“Vengeance is mine. I will repay.”
It’s his job to balance the books and bring justice. If someone lies about me, criticizes me unfairly (or fairly but unkindly for that matter), it is God’s job to defend me. When I try to settle the score and straighten everyone else out, I am usurping a divine right. That is God’s job and I am insulting him when I try to do it myself.
If I could give one piece of advice to bloggers it would be this. Sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away. I don’t have to respond to criticisms and fight back against insults. Don’t let fools drag you into their folly. Or, to put it in the pithy words of the Po’ Folks restaurant menu,
Never ‘rassle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.
Thoughts about “Answering a fool according to his folly.”
It is more of an art than a science to apply the conflicting advice of Proverbs 26. The Spirit is there to guide you, of course, but here is some advice I have.
1) Even a fool should be treated with basic Christian kindness.
That is hard. But the Bible never says, “If a man doth be a jerk, blasteth him as thou pleasest.” Blogging is often a great opportunity to practice the biblical virtues of forgiveness and grace.
2) There is a time to walk away (as I said before).
Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
We must not use this as an excuse, but this verse seems to admit the reality that there are people we might never be able to live at peace with, people who are just too angry or foolish to walk in unity with. But that should never be my doing. My job is to live at peace as much as is possible – I have to put the onus on the other to force disunity.
But there is a time to simply walk away. There is a time to let a fool marinate in his folly and not try to straighten him out
The best way to deal with tantrums is to ignore them. When a child throws a tantrum, it is to get attention or to get their way. The last thing you should do is reward that behavior. Walk away. Let the child cry and whine without an audience.
Bloggers, please hear me. There is a power in walking away. Just serve Jesus and speak the truth and the fools be fools. God will straighten things out in his time.
Isn’t that what Proverbs 26:4 is saying? Don’t answer the fool or you will be drawn down into his folly and become like him.
Once in a while people email me for advice about their frustration over one blogger or another who is frustrating them. I’ve given this same advice to a bunch of folks. Walk away. Don’t give attention to childish bloggers throwing temper tantrums. Walk the higher path.
3) You answer a fool to protect others.
There are two clear reasons NOT to answer a fool.
- To protect myself or answer criticisms. That’s God’s job.
- To correct the fool and straighten him out. It won’t work.
But there is a good reason to answer a fool. God has given us the job of protecting one another. When one part of the Body hurts or is attacked, it is a duty of other parts to come to that part’s aid. When someone publishes unfair attacks on a brother (or sister) in Christ, it is our duty to respond, to give perspective or refute untruth.
When someone insults and questions the character of a man or woman of God, we should answer the fool and defend our brother.
4) If you can reasonably correct a fool, do so.
We have a responsibility to the truth. When someone publishes or advocates falsehood, we have a responsibility to speak the truth. That is why verse 5 tells us to answer the fool, so that he cannot be smug and satisfied in his own foolish lies.
I’m bad at this. More than once I’ve tried to refute the folly of a fool and ended up angry – I became a fool trying to respond to a fool. Remaining calm, reasonable and Spirit-controlled is essential in dealing with folly.
5) Correct a fool for the benefit of others.
Proverbs talks about “mockers” – those who ridicule the path of wisdom – and it tells us that there is little point in correcting a mocker since he will not listen. But it does advise us to punish mockers for the sake of others so that they will understand the folly of the path.
There is a time to stand against a fool not for your own sake or for the sake of the fool himself (or herself) but for the sake of others.
Since even the biblical advice here is seemingly contradictory, it is never going to be easy to navigate this subject. Any attempt to give strict guidelines would go beyond what is warranted in scripture.
But this much is clear, you and I are to be agents of peace, of truth, and of the glory of God. Sometimes, that requires us to confront the fools and sometimes it requires us to let them be the fools they are determined to be. It is the Spirit’s job, not mine to give you absolute advice on this.
The most important advice is that which I will end on. Verse 4 carries this warning.
Whatever you do in dealing with a fool, don’t become like him.