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~ The Many Levels of Folly ~

St. Paul commented, "Training the body helps a little, but godly living helps in every way. Godly living has the promise of life now and in the world to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). As I thought about this more deeply, it became evident this is not akin to the often cited platitudes such as, "Exercising the mind is just as important as exercising the body" or "A healthy mind in a healthy body is the goal." These are even debatable despite how true they sound. After all, many people have professions that require more of their physical ability and performance than of their mental acuity, and many earn higher salaries than those whose work depend only on their mental faculties.

No matter how well I train my body for peak performance and health through exercise, nutrition, and physical check ups to monitor any potential health problems that are best addressed early, I'm engaging in a losing battle. All I can hope to do is delay the natural deterioration of my body as it ages. Of course, that's a good thing to do, as a sound body does contribute to a sound mind. (Writing this Weekly Reflection would be difficult if I was in pain from a toothache, though it's been done since mental and spiritual concentration does take my attention away from physical pain.)

Attending to spiritual performance and health, however, is never a battle against a natural process of deterioration. One can have a highly developed spirit living in a damaged body or in a healthy one, and spiritual growth continues independent of the physical, even beyond the physical's demise. So when the body dies, what I'll have left is a spirit that is pathetically undeveloped, just ok and viable, or one that is healthy and developing to peak performance. While both body and spirit need our attentiveness, it is prudent to invest our primary care in what is everlasting.

Yes, our bodies will be resurrected into a renewed and transformed state of being. But, to use weightlifters as just one example (among models and others), if they are looking forward to a resurrected body that manifests all the work they put into it while on earth, and will take pride in showing off how good they look in heaven, they fall into a biblical category of "fools."

There are many different words in the original biblical language that are translated as "foolishness." Like medical tests for cholesterol levels, cardiac health and the like, "foolishness" is one viable standard for measuring our spiritual growth as well as giving great feedback on the state of our character and moral development.

First, let us consider pethi, the Hebrew word translated as "fool" but literally means to be immature due to lack of experience or study, to be easily persuaded due to gullibility. "A gullible person believes anything, but a sensible person watches his step" (Proverbs 14:15). This person is trusting and easily swayed. Car sales persons jump on this kind of person, as do the media and our governments, especially during election campaigns.

Another Hebrew word often translated as "fool" is kesil. This "fool" may be extraordinarily intelligent, but arrogant and self-confident, quite defensive when challenged and able to defend himself well. He is not a listener and is not interested in learning from others. During dialog, as you speak, he is typically preparing his next statement, not hearing you. Dialog with such a person is not an exchange of ideas after thoughtful consideration, but an ongoing recitation of what he said before, statements he considers truth and beyond challenge. If you stop such a person before he "responds" to what you just said, and ask him to repeat your statement, he generally won't be able to do it. If he has some sense of respect, he'll ask you to repeat yourself ("remind me what you said") or just may say, "I heard you, but..." and continue with his declarations. As a result, he learns nothing and so is called a fool, a kesil.

Then we have the 'evil or the Hebrew play on words, one who is evil in the sense of morally perverse and who made a conscious decision to engage in destructive behaviors described as ivveleth or folly. This one actually despises "wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). "Though you crush a stubborn fool in a mortar like grain with a pestle, yet will his stupidity will not leave him" (Proverbs 27:22). A dialectic dialog with such a person is typically a waste of time.

The Hebrew word nabal, is described in Psalms 14 and 53 as the one who declares in his soul and by his voice, "There is no God." He is devoted to "raising hell" as it were, blaming God for all evil happenings: "A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord."

We finish with the Hebrew luts, the foolish mocker who vehemently scoffs any spiritual declarations or guidance in truth and righteousness. The Psalms have a name for this person: "Proud and haughty...who deals with proud rage." The other kinds of "fools" grieve God's Holy Spirit. This one wears even humans down. "Blessed is the person who does not occupy the seat of the scornful." This person's self-trumpeting hurts not only God's ears but any within his sound. Often highly intelligent, this fool may "deceive the very elect" by his passionate presentation. I suggest this does not apply only to individuals, but organizations and governments as well. The explanations of this kind in the Proverbs and Psalms easily fit the anti-spiritual governments of Communist nations such as China and North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

The Proverbs are eloquent regarding fools: "Wisdom sings her song in the streets. In the public squares she raises her voice. At the corners of noisy streets she calls out. At the entrances to the city she speaks her words, 'How long will you gullible people love being so gullible? How long will you mockers find joy in your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Turn to me when I warn you. I will generously pour out my spirit for you. I will make my words known to you.

"I called, and you refused to listen. I stretched out my hands to you, and no one paid attention. You ignored all my advice. you did not want me to warn you. I will laugh at your calamity. I will make fun of you when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a violent storm, when trouble and anguish come to you. They will call to me at that time, but I will not answer. They will look for me, but they will not find me, because the hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They refused my advice, they despised my every warning. They will eat the fruit of their lifestyle, they will be stuffed with their own schemes.

"Gullible people kill themselves because of their turning away. Fools destroy themselves because of their indifference. But whoever listens to me will live without worry and will be free from the dread of disaster" (Proverbs 1:20-33).

There are many biblical indicators of spiritual and psychological development. The wisdom literature of the Bible most eloquently describes them. I introduced a few as standards by which to assess ourselves and those with whom we engage. Of course, we best apply them to ourselves, and not in evaluation of others. Unless we are steeped in wisdom ourselves, and are attentive to her voice, we cannot address anyone else in wisdom, only in folly and foolishness.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Spiritual Resource Services  © October 12, 2006

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