The Theology of the Fool - excerpt from FOOL

Mar 20, 2023 10:18 AM

How low can a fool go? Read this excerpt from Chapter 14, “The Degradation of Folly."

It is my duty now to introduce you to another character, a special case under the general category of the 3rddegree fool. One would have to consider him the clown in this miserable circus of moral depravity. He is the nabal(nah-vahl)the shameless fool. Nabal comes from a root word that means to fade, to wither, to fall like desiccated fruit. Whatever vestige of a moral conscience he ever had is dried up and shriveled into uselessness. The nabal is a man or woman with a withered soul.

The nabal is the fool's Fool. Like the 'evil, the committed fool, he has decisively rejected wisdom and made a commitment to destructive ideas and behaviors. More than this, he has so given himself over to his lower nature that he has made himself odious to the world. He is self-centered, ignoble, irreverent, boorish, rude, vile. He is the 3rd degree fool gone to seed. Earlier we discussed the difference between the perverse and the perverted. This fool is a true pervert. He has a perverted mind, and his lifestyle reflects it. There’s a related Old Testament term: nebalah (ne-va-lah), which is usually translated "folly," but that is truly a gross understatement. More accurately, it is villainy or vice. We are talking serious sin here.

The Degradation of Folly

How serious? How degraded do you think human folly can become? Let me walk you through a biblical description of the degradation of folly—but put on your mental hip boots before we go.

Nabal is a synonym for incorrigible wickedness and unbelief.

They have corrupted themselves,

their mark is not the mark of (God’s) children;

they are a perverse and crooked generation.

Do you thus repay the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?[i]

Did you notice those modifiers? Corrupt, perverse, crooked, unwise—they all go with nebalah, shameless folly.


Theology of a Fool

Observe this famous passage from the Psalms:

The [shameless] fool {nabal} has said in his heart,

“There is no God.”

They are corrupt.

They have done abhorrent works.

There is none who does good.

They have all turned away.

They have alike become filthy.

There is none who does good, no, not one.

Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge,

who eat up my people as they eat bread,

and call not upon the Lord?[ii]

The shameless fool is an atheist at heart, whether he is a formal atheist or not. (By the way, the point of this psalm is not that all atheists are fools, but that all shameless fools are atheists at heart.)

What is spoken here is not a mere avoidance of God. It is a positive statement of unbelief. There are layers of unbelief, and the shameless fool lies at the bottom. He does not merely doubt whether there is a God, nor is he merely unconscious of God’s pervasive presence. He does not merely worry that there may be no divine Providence when he is in need. He does not just hope that no God is watching him. In his heart he believes—he has complete faith—that he will never have to give an account to God. He “says” there is no God. He declares it. He has decided it is so. He may not have studied it as a philosophy or adopted it as an opinion of his mind, but he has made a decision in his heart.

But wait—if only God knows the heart, how can it we know so generally that the shameless fool is an atheist? Behold his deeds. Examine his lifestyle. Behavior reveals character. This is the recurring theme of all the wisdom literature. Test his fruit and you will find corruption: “They are corrupt … They have all turned away.” He has taken all the virtues that make for a functional, harmonious life, and so turned them toward selfish ends that they have become devoid of moral worth.

He also bears the fruit of abomination: “They have done abhorrent works." Because he is hostile to holiness, he commits deeds that God has pronounced detestable, ranging from idolatry to sexual perversion. "They have alike become filthy.” Such a lifestyle is a social pattern, and there is a group identity that is forged through shared participation in immorality.

He bears the fruit of omission: “There is none who does good … There is none who does good, no, not one.” He does not do the good that God’s law requires. His deeds are not beautiful, beneficial, pleasant, or agreeable. The psalmist marvels instead at his extreme perversity. He is one of the “workers of iniquity,” a phrase in Hebrew that could be translated “troublemakers.”

He bears the fruit of extortion: “[They] eat up my people as they eat bread.” He is a predator who preys on those who play by the rules. He bears the fruit of autonomy: “[They] do not call upon the Lord.” He considers himself self-sufficient, self-determining. He is a thoroughgoing humanist, whose self-perception is that he has no need to pray or to call on God, even in case of dire emergency. Neither does he consider any oath taken in God’s name binding. Thus if he tells the truth, it is only because he chooses to do so. If he decides to lie, his lie must be uncovered and his testimony impeached by those who uphold the law. He will not confess it because he has no regard for any moral authority above himself.

[i] Deuteronomy 32:5,6a

[ii] Psalm 14:1-4 and Psalm 53:1-4. Compare Romans 3:9-12,23.

Copyright © 2015 by Garry D. Nation.  All rights reserved.

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