The Bible presents us two kinds of folly, both very different. We meet the first in Proverbs. It’s the folly of the person who denies the existence of God, the person who embraces a materialist worldview.
We encounter the second in the writings of the apostle Paul. This folly proclaims a God so real and imminent and palpable that he takes human flesh, walks among us, and expunges our sins upon the cross.
These two views are as different as whisky and chicken broth.
In a flatly materialist world, do prayer and fasting make any kind of sense? What about worship, or asceticism, or charity, or defending the unborn, or loving your enemy, or laying down your life for your neighbor? No, a gospel ethic is at best eccentric in a materialist world. At worst, it’s sheer lunacy.
The folly of Christianity
The tendency in our day to ameliorate and downplay the folly of Christianity is understandable. Who wants to look foolish?
Paul, for one, had no problem with it. “We are fools for Christ’s sake,” he boasts in 1 Corinthians 4.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” he says earlier in the same letter, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”This is the same sort of topsy-turvy that we find in Mary’s Magnificat, a prophetic pronouncement showing God’s saving activity upending the world as we know it. The powerful, rich, and wise find their assets broken, worthless, and dumb.
“The God of all,” said Theodoret of Cyrus, “overcame the learned through the unlearned, and the rich through the poor, and through fishermen he snared the world.”
Real wisdom, real folly
Are we on board with that program? It’s not like it’s over. Christians are to take on the mind of Christ. How much of our sanctification is unlearning the wisdom of the world, abandoning its values, dropping its agendas? Christians have different pursuits than unbelievers. We weigh life differently. We value time and goods and people in a manner unlike the world.
And it looks odd from one point of view. To walk counter to the world is to be a fool in the world’s eyes. But who cares?
“[R]eal folly is . . . absence of faith,” said Theodoret. The godless wisdom of the world is, as Paul said, foolish. That’s where the materialist finds himself, whether he knows it or not. And that’s not the kind of fool I want to be.