Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
Solomon, in Proverbs 26:12
Anyone who has studied Solomon’s comments concerning fools knows that Solomon, as well as the rest of the Scriptures, makes it pretty clear that there is no hope for a fool. A fool just will not learn from God; he cannot understand the word of God; it makes no sense to him. A fool cannot please God because he cannot see that God’s way of living is superior to his own ideas. So, when Solomon says that there is more hope for a fool than for a proud man, it makes one’s ears “perk up”, so to speak. How can such a thing be? How can there be less hope for anyone than for a fool?
The answer lies in understanding the heart that a proud man has, and in understanding which particular kind of proud people Solomon is describing. In Proverbs, Solomon is referring to religiously proud people, the kind who opposed Jesus when he lived among us. Solomon’s proverbs were directed to his children; therefore he must have assumed that they would live their lives among the people of God, the ones who served Him. And when a religious spirit is mixed with anything evil, it makes that evil much more dangerously wicked than it otherwise would be. For example, there is no hatred like religious hatred. If one believes that it is God’s will to hate, that hatred will know no boundaries; its cruelty will be utterly implacable. For a man who believes that it is God’s will to hate, the more cruel he behaves toward those he hates, the holier he sees himself as being. Piteous cries for mercy from his victims are heard by such men as mere contemptible screams of those ordained by God to be destroyed. Likewise, then, when a religious spirit is mixed with pride, from where will the cure come?
A fool cannot understand God’s word, but a proud man often does, and the mere understanding of it makes him prouder. A fool will not be corrected by any amount of suffering, but a proud man can be corrected, but then becomes prouder than ever that he has humbled himself to be rescued from the error of his ways. The more God does for a fool, the less thankful he becomes. The more God does for a proud man, the prouder he becomes of what God has done for him. Where is the hope for such a man as this?
A fool may be easily bored with Bible reading, but not a proud man, for the more a proud man reads the Bible, the prouder he feels because . . . well, because he has read the Bible, the greatest book of all. A fool may utter a prayer here or there, but not a religiously proud man, for the more that man prays, the prouder he becomes of the fact that he has prayed. Is he not, therefore, better in his own mind than others who do not? If he prays for a long time, he is very likely to make certain that those around him know about it, too, if he can find a way to do it. Fools cannot get it right, but the more good deeds a religiously proud man does, the prouder he becomes of how many good deeds he has done. If he forgives, he becomes proud of his merciful heart; if he testifies, he becomes proud of his testimony; if he helps the poor, he honors himself for his generosity; if he brings God his tithes, he is puffed up by that act of obedience, and the more he gives beyond his tithes, the prouder he becomes.
There is more hope for a fool than for a proud man because a fool is clearly doing what is evil and not doing what is good; therefore, there is the slight chance that he will someday be able to see that. But what does a religiously proud man see when he looks around at what he has done? Nothing, perhaps, but things to be proud of.
A fool will not obey God, but a proud man looks for opportunities to obey God; doing so gives him that glowing sense of self-worth that he loves. He uses God and His commandments just as he uses people and their needs, to increase his stature in his own blind eyes.
As an added note, I should mention that Solomon also says that there is more hope for a man who is hasty with his mouth than there is for a fool, too (Prov. 29:20). That is an issue for examination at another time, but one that we should know is there.
God help us.