How to Answer a Fool

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The internet can seem like a maze of opinions that blaze through a forest of knowledge. Many people are earnest in their efforts to post quality articles, news, and resources. But trolls and cyber bullies also abound, thrashing and trashing what's posted without restraint.

What's a person to do? How do you deal with people who look to start a fight and bait people into useless debates? Prevailing wisdom is to ignore them. This may work within the noisy environment of virtual reality, but what about dealing with foolish people in real life?

Scripture

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool. Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools! [vss 1-3]

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison. [vss 4-6]

Like the useless legs of one who is lame is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool. Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by. As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. [vss 7-12]

Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own. Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” [vss 17-19]

Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts. Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart. [vss 20-23]

(Proverbs 26:1-12; 17-23 NIV) [Context– Proverbs 26]

Key phrase— There's more hope for a fool than a smug person

[bctt tweet="There's more hope for a fool than a smug person"]

Digging Deeper...

What graphic and descriptive things are said about foolish people? What stands out to you?

How can we make sense of what appear as two contradicting admonitions for answering a fool?

What are the strong, even harsh things said about those who cause trouble by what they say?

What are the expressed and implied ways we are to deal with those who gossip and are quarrelsome?

Reflection...

It's all fine to read these admonitions and indictments of those who gossip and stir up trouble, but how can we deal with real people in real life who do these things?

The key is in the advice for answering fools, which seems contradictory. Which is it? Do you answer a fool according to his folly, or don't you? Yes! There isn't one answer that fits all situations. Here are those two verses (Proverbs 26:4-5 MSG) expressed in a different version—

Don’t respond to the stupidity of a fool; you’ll only look foolish yourself.
Answer a fool in simple terms so he doesn’t get a swelled head.

It requires discernment, also a reliable base of wisdom, and an objective mindset. Those who trust in God can seek His wisdom and guidance, through prayer and reflection on the Scriptures. Don't get baited into fruitless, emotional arguments. But don't walk away from declaring the truth with integrity.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What will you rely on for wisdom in dealing with foolish and quarrelsome people?

Are you easily drawn into emotional debates that become fruitless arguments?

Do you listen to and pass on information about others that is unnecessary, nonsensical, or destructive?

How can you better answer devious, disruptive, and contentious people?