“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” – Proverbs 29:9
Serious political candidates don’t appear on radio DJ talk shows because of this proverb. Dialogue, and especially debate, trends toward the lowest common denominator. Thomas Paine would not use Twitter for the Rights of Man. Music festivals are not equipped with patent booths. And a fool is not interested in well-informed arguments.
Note that the fool in Proverbs is not someone who lacks advanced education. Higher education may refine your appetite and capacity for learning, but that is by no means a guarantee. There are many PhDs who argue like fools, and plenty of GEDs who argue wisely.
What’s happening in the argument between the wise man and the fool? Perhaps you’ve been involved in one of these frustrating exchanges, or at least you have witnessed one. On the one side, the wise person brings thoughtful arguments, evidence, reasoning, observation, and the accounting of multiple factors. For his part, the fool rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
A fool is always right in his own eyes (Prov 12:15). He is not interested in learning something new. He is not interested in being challenged. He is not interested in growing. Why should he be? He has already arrived. He is right, always and unequivocally. And the sooner everyone else knows that, the better. Therefore, when the fool encounters arguments or reasoning that cut across or challenge his foregone conclusions, he responds either in anger or in derisive mockery. Those are his only tools.
The fool has long since forgotten (if he ever knew) how to humbly take in and learn from others. Because (in his eyes) the wise man is wrong, and persists in trying to hold out and defend his wrong opinion; the wise man is the problem. There is no need to deal in exchanges of argument, and the fool’s responding attack needs only be directed at the wise man himself. The fool makes him the target of his own righteous anger, or attempts to make him the object of scorn.
Naturally, in the course of this argument, there is no quiet. Quiet would imply time and space for careful reflection, for allowing opposing voices to be heard. The fool cannot brook such an atmosphere. He is eager to fill up any opening, any let down, any quiet, with more raging and laughter.
When we can envision what is going on in this scenario between two people, we are able to lift our sights higher, to hear what the spiritual message is for us. In our lives, through the pages of the Bible, Jesus is the ultimate wise man. The question is: are you the fool? When God’s Word cuts across your opinions and your preferred conclusions, how do you respond? Is there an exchange? Is there listening and learning, or do you respond in anger and laughter? When we hear God’s word confronting us, we often respond like the fool. We take up a self-righteous indignation. We point to our sacrifices and our good deeds and minimize our failings. Or, we laugh off the argument against us. That’s legalistic. That’s puritanical. God isn’t concerned about as small a thing as that, and the people who think He is are plain silly.
God’s Word is the wise man incarnate, or rather in-scripted. It comes to reason with us, to plead with us, and to lead us toward a better life. Do we want to learn from it? Do we want to benefit? Or, when we hear the parts we don’t like, do we rage and laugh?