The folly of sin is, for lack of a better word, quite stupid. I have rarely heard (or read) this point made by church leaders or Christian people. Perhaps this such a basic point that we think it is not worth talking about. Yet so many professing Christians do speak of “struggling with sin”—why not investigate what we struggle with so much? Would it not help to understand sin for what it is? Perhaps it would help us to see why the Lord tells us to avoid it.
The truth of the folly of sin has forcefully crossed my mind many times as I have sought to understand my own behavior or considered others behavior. Yes, sin is stupid—or perhaps better put, choosing to sin makes me more prone to stupidity than I would be otherwise. Is this not because sin (slowly) leads to moral confusion, the destruction of a human person and of healthy human relationships? Why would I or anyone choose to engage in acts that work against human well-being?
The theological answer is that we are slaves to sin and the inclination of the flesh (Greek: sarx). The fundamental import of this assertion is that everyone, regardless of all other religious or cultural differences, is by nature bent toward self-serving gain of wants (or what we call our “needs”) at the expense of other people. Given that people naturally love sin in one form or another it makes sense to me that Scripture connects sin and folly. There appears to be varying degrees and manifestations of this expression of the fleshly inner nature which operates (especially) in those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here are a few examples from Proverbs,
“The clever do all things intelligently, but the fool displays folly.” (13:16, NRSV)
“The wise are cautious and turn away from evil, but the fool throws off restraint and is careless.” (14:16, NRSV)
“Folly is a joy to one who has no sense, but a person of understanding walks straight ahead.” (15:21, NRSV)
“Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way. One’s own folly leads to ruin, yet the heart rages against the LORD.” (19:2-3, NRSV)
The Lord, when he elaborated upon what made a person “unclean” (Mark 7:17-23) stated emphatically that what came from the unspiritual human heart contaminated a person with moral uncleanness—among the specific examples of this is folly.
I heard of a recent theft that I think illustrates the point I am making here. A 62 year old man was arrested for shoplifting from a Walmart store in Florida. After gathering some items he left the store in a motorized scooter which Walmart provides for shoppers. The police found him at his truck putting the stolen items away and arrested him. Because the scooter does not move very quickly it took him long enough to get to his truck that police had time to get there before he could leave. (See https://www.sebastiandaily.com/news/local/sebastian-man-uses-electric-scooter-to-steal-from-walmart-3958/)
I do not know what this man was thinking when he did this (or if he even gave any coherent thought to it all) but it was clearly an act of folly. Did he not know that he would be caught—especially since he drove this scooter out of the store all the way to his truck? Aside from the moral wrong of stealing, did it not occur to him that the means of this theft would insure that he was caught by Walmart employees or the police? Surely this is an example of the folly of sin.
One of the forgotten sections of Scripture is what biblical scholars call the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament. How often do pastors teach from the books of Proverbs or Psalms? And have you ever heard a sermon (or sermon series) based out of Ecclesiastes? A hundred years ago the Psalms were read (or sung) routinely in nearly all churches (regardless of denomination). And the Proverbs were read and memorized in the home of Christian families. Why did they do this? These were the handbooks for learning to approach God through prayer and for learning to be wise (to live skillfully) in the fear of the Lord God. We have lost so much by neglecting to listen to these sections of the Word of God.
At the center of the fools’ expression of folly is an attitude of indifference and hostility toward God. The fool asserts his or her own self-sufficiency to understand and navigate through the experience of life on earth; this demonstrates spiritual blindness. The root of spiritual blindness is arrogance (or haughtiness) and the antidote is humility. The folly of sin is, in part, demonstrated by the refusal to recognize or seek to discover truth about oneself and one’s inclinations to choose what is perverse and to transgress good moral boundaries. And it is even more emphatically demonstrated when the wicked fool seeks to actively convince others to join him or her in the pursuit of wicked actions and thoughts.
The Lord is not ignorant of these schemes and watches wicked persons even as they deny that he exists or that he has any power to act. God knows those who choose to not seek him or fear him and will bring them and their plans to nothing (Psalm 52).
“The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming.” (Psalm 37:12-13, NRSV)
When was the last time you heard a spiritual leader of a Christian church (pick one) say something like this? We in American churches today are enslaved to the insanity of the “nice” doctrine—that is, the supposed virtue of complete tolerance of others behavior. This kind of “tolerance” is not only not in accord with Scripture but God categorically denounces it; for it is actually a form of accommodating sin and evil behavior.
“The heart of the wise will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out. Whoever winks the eye [passively condoning evil] causes trouble, but one who rebukes boldly makes peace.” (Proverbs 10:8-10, NRSV)
We Christians talk much about the grace of God and that God is love. We rightly insist that God’s nature and character be rightly understood. For so many of us have encountered modern day Pharisees, who have added to God’s Word their own teachings and tried to sternly enforce obedience to them. This reticence to “judge” other people (employing merely one’s own understanding of God’s commands) is commendable; I certainly want to avoid this myself in all my interactions and even my thoughts toward others. But far too often we have mistaken “judging”, in the sense the Lord forbade, with discerning from Scripture the Lord’s righteous commands and requirements for his people and speaking of that in a loving and compassionate manner.
I would suggest that this aversion to judge is more often than not a refusal to rebuke in love and not restraint from “judging” (condemning). We go soft on others behavior because we ourselves are choosing to sin in some way (and not being honest about that). And if I am myself justifying what I know to be sin then how could I muster the courage to call out others for their sin? The answer is that I cannot and I will not.
God spoke frequently in the Old Testament through the prophets and pleaded with the ancient Israelites to listen to his voice and to obey his commands. For they were good and they were designed (fitted) precisely to lead them to shalom (peace, prosperity, well-being [in every sense]) in their communities. They grieved him by not listening and insolently defying the Word of the Lord. Thus he brought down upon them the consequences of their sins and transgressions of the good boundary for life in the covenant he had given them. Why do we think that we are somehow immune from this fate? Why do so many of us think (and act accordingly) as though we can choose sin and not have God bring down the consequences for this?
The folly of sin remains regardless of whether one knows the living God and his grace or not. The Lord does not exempt anyone from the principle of fruits: We will all be held accountable and experience (to some degree or another) the consequences for our choices to do evil. It is an act of compassion to tell people the truth about their behavior and attitudes; for this can give them an opportunity to repent of it and experience the Lord’s healing and restoration. Dare we withhold this gift of love?