April 23, 2021

Knowing Wisdom from Folly

Knowing wisdom from folly—at first blush, the choice seems obvious. But simply knowing something doesn’t make living it out easy.

I know it’s wise to ask for clarification, but I assumed I knew the answer. I technically know how to French braid, but I cannot for the life of me get my hands to make the strands tight enough and my plaits are never even. I know the steps, I know the technique, but applying it is a different story.

Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs

When we look at the two pictures of wisdom and folly given in Proverbs, the contrast is stark—the choice between them seemingly obvious. As we look at wisdom and folly, we’re going to see that while the benefits of wisdom are incredibly obvious, living it out daily is anything but. However, we are not without help: we have a heavenly Father who holds all wisdom.

We don’t have to study the book of Proverbs long to see that the choice between wisdom and folly is an obvious one. Folly isn’t a word we use every day, but it means foolishness or “the fact of being stupid.” We’re probably more familiar with wisdom, and it has positive connotations (whether we come from a Christian background or not). A snappy meme differentiates wisdom from knowledge saying:

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

Wisdom is good, results in good choices, and keeps tomatoes out of desserts. Writer and Bible-Teacher Jen Wilkin describes it as “the ability to achieve the best ends with the facts.” Wisdom is knowing the best way to proceed with the information at hand.

Chapter 9 of Proverbs compares wisdom and folly in similar situations. Folly is a loud, selfish, ignorant seductress while Wisdom is a stable, generous, intelligent friend. Solomon, the wise King who authored the book, personifies the two as women to paint us a picture of their natures. As Wisdom sets her table, readies her home, and invites people in, Folly has different motives.

Notice the Motives

Wisdom lays out an abundant feast in a sturdy, beautiful home made with her own hands. She is concerned for other people and sends out direct invitations to the simple and the foolish to join her table. She is proactive, intentional, generous, and life-giving.

Then you’ve got Folly. While we see wisdom making preparations, eager to show hospitality and share life, Folly sits at the door of her house, yelling loudly to whoever happens to walk by. She seduces passers-by from their intended path, enticing them with the pleasures of stolen food. We don’t actually see Folly prepping dinner, so odds are you’re going to be nicking it yourself. What Folly fails to mention to her guests is that “the dead are at her house”, which essentially means they’re in the depths of the dark underworld. You get kind of this creepy image of some psycho serial killer’s dark basement.

Both Wisdom and Folly seek to draw in guests, but their motivations and methods couldn’t be more different. Wisdom looks for those who need her even though they don’t deserve it, while folly lures anyone in from where she sits like some fat, hungry spider. Wisdom is concerned with the long haul. She’s built her own house, she’s resourceful and rooted and welcomes people into life. Folly is short-sighted and self-seeking, not thinking about the future or the consequences of unwise choices. Folly looks to instant gratification now, not revealing the end is death.

So, this seems like a difficult choice, right? Basement of death or literal living room of security? Don’t feel like I need to phone a friend on this one. Choose wisdom folks! But it isn’t that simple, is it? When the benefits of wisdom and the consequences of folly are so obvious, why wouldn’t we choose well every time? Just like my inability to make a symmetrical French braid despite knowing the steps, actually living out wisdom is harder than it looks.

Our Struggle with Wisdom and Folly: Dead in Sin

Solomon is painting a picture and the outcomes of living in folly or wisdom seem starkly obvious. And that is important because the consequences of each are this drastic. There is an obviousness to folly and wisdom. But, in the day-to-day moments of a fallen world, choosing the right option isn’t so easy.

For example, it doesn’t matter how much I know in my head that the snooze button is a bad idea, more often than not I hit that little button over and over again. My brain knows that the 10 minutes of ‘sleep’ I’ll get in between is worse than if I’d just reset my alarm altogether, but my body unconvincingly tells my brain I’ll get up at the next alarm. An hour later my alarm has stopped sounding and I’ve slept way past when I was meant to. It doesn’t really matter that I know this is a bad way to sleep. Knowledge unapplied is useless. 

We’ve all chosen folly. We’ve all acted foolishly, chosen selfishly, thought short-sightedly. We know waking up to our alarm is better than snoozing, but we hit the button a dozen times anyway. We know which foods fuel us with nutrition and which ones bog us down, but we reach for that extra candy bar, that extra fizzy drink. It’s easier.

We know a relationship is unhealthy, but it makes us feel just a little less lonely. We know that website has been making us feel distant from the Lord, but we click anyway. Despite the obvious benefits of wisdom, we are a people who struggle to choose it. And at the root of this struggle with wisdom is our own sin. In this second point we’re going to look at three ways we struggle with wisdom, however obvious it may seem.

Next week, we’ll look at our sinful nature, the sinful world, and the weight of wisdom.

This is part one in a series on Wisdom and Folly, based on the book of Proverbs. Stay tuned for part two next week.

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