How to Recognize a Fool

Wisdom for the Trenches, Part 1

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, and their ways are vile . . . .”
Psalm 53:1

Upon hearing P. T. Barnum’s famous quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” some wag asked, “If so, where did all the rest of them come from?” As societies stray from honoring God and His Law, there is a progressive increase of fools and folly among their citizenry.

Barnum was in the entertainment business and knew full well that the incidence of fools in the industry is as high as in any other segment of society. While Jesus prohibited our calling another person a fool as a curse (Matthew 5:22), the Scriptures provide ample criteria by which to recognize fools when we see them.

The first and most obvious mark of fools is their arrogant assertion that God doesn’t exist or, if He does, is unknowable. When confronted with these arguments from atheists or agnostics, the late J. Edwin Orr would ask, “How much of all the knowledge in the universe do you think is now possessed by human beings?” Usually the proportion cited was less than ten percent. “How much of all the knowledge possessed by human beings of all time do you, personally, feel that you possess?” This question usually drew an uncomfortable chuckle and an estimate of less than one percent. At this point, Orr would drive the stake into the discussion with this question: “Do you think it’s possible that God might exist outside the realm of your knowledge?”

Wisdom Principle 1: Failing to recognize the Supreme Being is being supremely foolish.


Fools are also recognizable by corrupt character. The problem with corruption is not just that it is “sin,” but that it doesn’t even work! E. Stanley Jones tells of a conversation he had with a politician who was mocking the British Oxford Group Movement with its four absolutes―absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. The man suggested a countermovement with “absolute dishonesty, absolute impurity, absolute selfishness, and absolute hate.”

“Why not?” Jones challenged. “If you believe in sin, why do you not go out and make it absolute . . . sin with all the stops pulled out . . .?” The man looked at Jones in astonishment and said, “Oh, no, we couldn’t do that―it wouldn’t work!” It most certainly wouldn’t. Every dishonest, impure, selfish, and hate-filled person is a parasite on the righteous people who practice enough morality to keep the system working.

The Law of Righteousness is wired into the universe as much as the law of gravity. Allowing moral corruption into one’s life is like putting water in one’s automobile gas tank; it soon brings all operations to a screeching halt.

Wisdom Principle 2: Corruption isn’t just wrong, it’s stupidin the long run it doesnt even work.


Finally, fools are characterized by deeds that are “vile.” Humans were designed by the Creator to live successfully only by divinely-defined purity and morality. Thus, those whose minds and actions are marked by filth, debauchery, and sexual perversion are steering a life course that could not be more foolish. Proverbs minces no words in describing such people: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).

Wisdom Principle 3: Filth and faith are mutually exclusive; as one grows, the other dies.

Learning to recognize fools and their ways provides rich benefits for those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” So, do your homework!




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