Who is More Foolish?
If you have ever come across an individual who claims to know everything, the one thing you can be sure in regards to this individual is that they are absolutely lying to you. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this individual is quite foolish in his or her grandiose claim, and it may be safe to say that they can surely be ignored. The fact of the matter is that there is no person, alive or dead, who has this infinite knowledge and wisdom to be able to understand and know all there is in the universe. Though many will agree with this sentiment, there was a man who took this idea a step further, and he claimed to know absolutely nothing.
Thousands of years ago, a man by the name of Socrates lived in the city of Athens spending his time thinking. In fact, all he ever did was ask himself questions, and he then immediately sought to prove his own answers wrong (see the Socratic method). One day, however, it was revealed to Socrates that the Oracle of Delphi, a priestess of the temple of Apollo, claimed that he was the wisest man of all of Athens. Bewildered by such a claim, Socrates decided to prove the oracle wrong. He did not believe that he was the smartest man, and so Socrates began searching for someone who was wiser and smarter than himself.
Thus, Socrates began questioning individuals known for their wisdom. He would inquire on the meaning of life and other such matters to which only a wise man could attest. Each time he asked a question, he received an unsatisfactory response. Instead of admitting their ignorance, everyone he questioned all pretended to know something that they clearly did not know. Socrates was left with no solution, and instead, he deduced that he, indeed, was the wisest man in all of Athens simply because he at least understood that he knew nothing.
This story of self-awareness transcends time and culture. Even today, it would seem that the people admitting their own ignorance have a leg up on those who pretend to have knowledge that they do not possess. However, certain mediums such as social media and the blatant disregard for truth found in all major news networks have lead people to such a place of pride as to feign wisdom and knowledge. Suddenly, everyone is an economist, scientist, doctor, politician, and theologian, and regardless of what facts or truth are brought against such individuals, they will undoubtedly continue to tout their opinions as the undeniable solution to the manifold issues plaguing our society today.
There are many passages of Scripture that talk about wisdom and knowledge. The wisest man to ever live, Solomon, comes to mind, but what is interesting to note is that he only received his divinely gifted wisdom because he knew that, without God, he was lacking; thus instead of asking for riches or fame, he asked God to grant him wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:8-10). Due to his humility, God granted him his request and made him the wisest man to ever walk the earth. It is interesting that this wisest man still fell incredibly short and was responsible for his kingdom’s eventual split. Even wisdom of such a great magnitude is not enough to counter the blunder of human arrogance.
Paul too, writes about wisdom in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (vv. 20-21). Paul here is writing about salvation through God and the supposed foolishness in which the world perceives the gospel. He continues, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (vv. 26-29).
This passage, though focused on the supposed folly of the gospel, truly paints the correct picture of the sum of human thought and intelligence. Our wisdom cannot possibly compare to the wisdom of the infinite and omniscient God, and so Paul writes, “... the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (v. 25). Paul here is not saying that God is weak or foolish, but he is trying to describe the absolute gap between human and the divine by explaining that our intelligence cannot even compare to God. Therefore, Paul deduces in this passage that man cannot come to God and his salvation alone. No Christian can ever boast that they are saved because they are smarter or wiser than those who are unbelievers. Ultimately, Jesus “became to us wisdom”, and without him, we are simply fools.
The apostle Paul claims that God purposefully uses the weak, unrighteous, and unwise in order to put those who would see themselves as mighty, holy, and intelligent in their place. There seems to be a trend to biblical wisdom that exhorts humility. Pride is the great stumbling block of intelligence, and often pride wholly unravels any wisdom someone may possess. Of course, the Bible still advocates for wisdom and encourages us to search for it; however, there is a certain hubris in which many, including believers, carry themselves today that warrants some self-reflection. Do we think less of others who have a different opinion than us? When we are discussing our opinions, whether it is politics, religion, or even sports, do we tout our supposed wisdom while degrading those with which we disagree?
Are we humble in our disagreements?
We do not know everything, and I am inclined to believe that Socrates was nearer to the truth than not. Humanity in its totality, the composite wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence of the entire human race, has barely scratched the surface of the reality of the universe. We cannot solve the issues wrought by sin. That is not our goal. When we harbor an opinion, there is always the decent chance that we are wrong, especially when we are not experts in the field being discussed. The more we begin to recognize this reality, the more we will let humility, and not pride, rule our hearts, and thus, in our humility and the recognition of our ignorance, we will become wiser. May God grant us all wisdom, knowledge, and love for our neighbor. Amen.