“Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly” – Prov 17:12
This isn’t one of those “gotta experience it to understand it” proverbs. You don’t need to go out and try to snatch some bear cubs to gain some insight on “I wonder how the mom is going to respond?” Maybe you saw your own mom play this one out a few times when she didn’t like how you were treated. Truth is, we all have a little “momma bear” in us that can come out when we feel that something we cherish is threatened. We flip into a gear where it’s all teeth, and claws, and caution to the wind. Just try to take my McDonald’s bag fries, and see what happens.
In the perspective of eternity, the ultimate fool in his folly is someone dead in their sins, who is running away from rescue in Christ. But we also have more everyday manifestations of this as well. How do we spot the fool in his folly? And how do we avoid becoming this kind of enraged momma bear? After all, the Bible tells us, between meeting a fool in his folly and the enraged momma bear, go with the bear.
Meeting a fool in his folly means something more specific than encountering a fool. There is a particular weakness this fool has, a particular blind spot, an area of profound dysfunction in his life. This is a problem that has gone far beyond a bad habit or an irritating quirk. It’s more like the log Jesus mentions that’s jammed in your eye. (Mt 7:1-5) The folly of this sort of fool has swollen so large that it overshadows all other parts of the person’s life, actually defining how they interface with the rest of the world. To meet the fool in his folly would be like stepping between an addict and his substance in the midst of his mania.
At such points, wisdom dictates we step well clear. It’s not about wording your argument in just the right way, or being persuasive and winsome enough, or even about sympathizing. You don’t try to “walk alongside” the enraged momma bear, trying to calm her down, redirect her, or help her see reason. You get out of the way. This doesn’t mean God ever gives us a license to not care about someone. But there are certain people, in certain circumstances, who are going to have to learn the hard way. If you try to intervene, all you’ve done is spread the damage.
I’m sure there are certain people who spring to mind when you hear a proverb like this, but the question is: do you know when and where your momma bear is prone to come out? Do you have areas of your life that are no-gos? Do you have habits, or topics of conversation, where those who know you best know to stay away? How can you tell?
To locate your own areas of folly, you can start by thinking about: “What do I not want people to confront me about?” If that doesn’t help narrow your search, try monitoring your emotions. Where are the emotional minefields where you find yourself getting over-heated? In what kind of situations or conversations do you find yourself becoming particularly sensitive, or easily offended and angered? Chances are, these are your areas of folly. The difficulty here is that wise people quickly learn to stay away from you at those points. We need the Spirit of God to humble us so that we want to change more than we simply want other people to stay out of our way.