Folly

Preaching and Worship Resources about Folly

Folly is ignorance of God and God's world (sometimes it's willed ignorance) and a failure to fit oneself into God's world smoothly. Fools bang their shins and scrape their elbows on God's world.

In Scripture

Corrupt "Fools say in their hearts, `There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds" (Ps. 14:1).

Like Sport "Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding" (Prov. 10:23).

"A fool despises a parent's instruction, but the one who heeds admonition is prudent" (Prov. 15:5).

Confronting a She-Bear "Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs than to confront a fool immersed in folly" (Prov. 17:12).

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matt. 23:37).

His Own People Did Not Accept Him "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him" (John 1:10, 11).

Futile in Their Thinking "Though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

Shaming the Wise "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor. 1:27).

Enemies of the Cross "For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18, 19).

Committing Murder "You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2).

Points to Ponder

In the proverbs, with their parallel constructions, folly is often paired up with wickedness or with pride. In other respects as well, the proverbs' main examples of folly are behaviors that are both dumb and wrong — an unwillingness to listen (you can't tell a fool anything), an irritable attitude, a sharp tongue, a haughty spirit.

Not all folly is sin (the ad says "Illiterate? Write today for free help"). A lot of things human beings do are loopy, not sinful, and the apt response to them is a guffaw, not a rebuke. Some of the time it's hard to tell whether folly is culpable. Are parents who try to buy their children's love culpable for their poor judgment?

What is it about sin that makes it so foolish? Sin is the wrong recipe for good health; it's the wrong fuel for the human motor; it's the wrong road to get home. In other words, sin is finally futile. To take a prime example, idolatry is not only treacherous, but also stupid. Human beings fascinate themselves with the current idols of this world, but the idols can't deliver. If we try to fill ourselves with anything besides the God of the universe, we find that we are overfed but undernourished, and day by day we are thinning down to a mere silhouette of a human being.

Sin is futile. Another of its follies is that it is self-destructive. Sin grieves God, offends or deprives others, but it also corrodes us. Sin is a form of self-abuse. Promiscuous persons, for example, condemn themselves to social superficiality. They make sex merely recreational. Liars and cheats abort the possibility of fellowship. As Christopher Lasch wrote, "Whoever cheats his neighbor forfeits his neighbor's trust, imprisons himself behind a wall of enmity and suspicion, and thus cuts himself off from his fellows."

Folly is Often Tragic In the biblical examples above, folly is often tragic. Fools say there is no God, or they spurn God's Son, or they fail to honor and thank God. In other words, they unplug their own resuscitator.

The self-destructiveness of sin may be national, as in the case of Israel. Hence the note of urgency, even of desperation, in many of the biblical prophecies. Israel depends for her very existence on her covenant partner. When Nathan confronts King David after his adultery; when Micah cries out against injustice, or Hosea against idolatry; when Isaiah warns against national pride or Amos against phony worship; the complaint is never generic. The complaint is always particular ("The judge asks for a bribe") and the context always a crisis: the nation is acting like a jackass. It's carrying on like a damned fool and is therefore in grave danger of self-destruction. In his role, the prophet is a wise man and a seer. He sees that in sin the stakes are higher, the reverberations wider, and the corruption deeper than people suspect. And he tells them so, often in disagreeable ways.

The Dicey State of the Word "Sin" Preachers aware of the dicey state of the word "sin" today (it's thought to be a judgmental word or it's thought to be a dessert menu word) may want to use the language of folly when preaching about sin. Sins are futile, unrealistic (pride, for example), self-destructive. They cause enmity, violence, depression, sorrow. They are bad for business, bad for joy, bad for keeping the peace. All this can be said without using the word "sin."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.