The term wise fool is somehow contradictory. It was first used by Alastair Campbell to describe what she calls a pastoral self-image, in that pastors ought to be wise and folly. This oxymoron contradicts the lifeblood of pastoral ministry. Using the oxymoron wise fool is indeed contradictory. It raises eyebrows to startling questions such as, How can someone be wise and yet a fool at the same time? What does it mean to be a wise fool? How do we know when folly is wisdom and not mere nonsense?
Being a wise fool allows us to address problems by looking at them from a new, unaccustomed perspective.
You will notice that one of the main reasons why we are unable to deal effectively with problems or conflicts with other people is because the angles from which we perceive such problem or conflict are often wrong, narrow, or even distorted. When we approach problems or conflicts in a radically different way, we discern, through our keen perception, that it is not an issue to worry about after all. If human problems were viewed from uncommonsensical standpoints, we would see that they are not as complex and difficult as they seem, and our former common sense is now folly.
However, a very profound way of going about this would be to see the situation from God’s angle of vision.
Imagine how God views that situation. To start with, we know that God is not man and can never be man; He will always forgive! This humbling perspective chastens us to the very guilt of our own sins and stupidity. This posture of compassion helps us to overcome self-deception and illusion.
More to this, I will be discussing how to discover a whole new world to which we were previously blind or insensitive to by citing three practical ways to live for the sake of others as wise fools.
Be A Simple Fool
Simplicity requires taking a simpler view of the situation than others have done. This does not mean ignoring it, or not taking a problem serious when there is actually one. Instead, being simple to a problem is the ability to recognize that the problem is actually simpler than it has been perceived to be. This approach helps us to see beyond the obvious and empathically imagine what someone else is experiencing or why he or she is behaving a certain way. For example, instead of taking the position of others by seeing the rebellious behavior of a teenager as unfashionable or irritating, simplicity requires that we view such behavior as an inner struggle within the self, and perhaps a way the teenager shows the distance between his mom and dad. As a result, the kid is acting out in anger and stubbornness at close ‘others’ for not understanding his internal conflict.
Perhaps one of your friends is suffering from paranoia and as a result, this causes the person to be on guard at all times and avoidant of others. Being a wise fool in this context may require you to simplify the way you view the situation by seeing that friend of yours as a victim of abandonment crisis, which he or she experienced with the parents. The parents were unavailable for his or her emotional needs as a toddler and as a result, they grew up doing things on their own and journeying through life as a solo mission. Seeing your friend as stubbornand arrogant only breaks the diagnostic frame that he or she struggles with and therefore places the person in a wholly different frame of analysis.
The two cases cited have something in common. Both the teenager and the paranoid friend are victims of a moral evaluation, whereas the original frame was a psychodynamic disorder. Unfortunately, people will always look at them from the conventional moral lens.
A simple fool would rather overlook the conventional moral analysis to dig deep into the nonsensicality of the overlooked psychodynamic issue––the simple but important fact that they are only behaving that way because they’ve been hurt by the people they love.
This is a simpler view of these two people that others were unable to diagnose. Therefore, a core characteristic of a wise fool is the capacity to see situations as simpler than others have thought them to be.
Be A Loyal Fool
To know when folly is a kind of wisdom, it would require being an enigma by been willing to disregard yourself because of a higher loyalty. In King Lear, Shakespeare shows how the fool stands by the king’s side showing an unheroic but persistent loyalty when everyone has deserted him. He may be a fool for staying with King Lear at such time, and not a knave who “serves and seeks for gain and follows but for form, will pack when it begins to rain, and leave thee in the storm” (Act 2, Scene 4). No wise fool is such! There is no dishonor in being a loyal fool. Dishonor only comes when we become full of ourselves and faithless like a knave.
Followers of Jesus in the early church were considered fools. The word “Christian” was a derogatory term used to scorn them for being “Christ-like”. As followers of Jesus, we are branded loyal fools who are ready to give our lives for His sake in order that we may find it (Matt 16:25).
The enigmatic character of loyal folly finds it senseless logic in loving those who do you harm. The bible affirms this for us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Being a loyal fool makes you vulnerable to exploitation for the sake of love. Indeed Jesus looked like the “greatest of fools” as he pleaded with God to forgive his accusers even as they mocked him in his suffering at the Cross of Calvary. No man would allow himself to be exploited to folly in such a manner except he trusted, beyond all practical reason, in the ultimate victory of love.
Be A Prophetic Fool
If being a simpler or loyal fool portrays one as someone of pathos then the third dimension of folly presents a more active, challenging, and provocative fool. Historically, the prophetic aspect of folly challenges conventional norms. Prophecy does come across as folly since it often does not meet the requirements of common sense. It cuts across our frail human understanding of reality to announce the power of God’s judgment. As a result, prophetic fools are often misunderstood, ridiculed, and utterly disrespected.
Biblically, we see almost all the Prophets ridiculed at some point as crazy fools. Isaiah went naked for days warning of the impending humiliation and captivity of Egypt and Cush; Hosea, a great prophet of the Lord married a prostitute and gave his children disturbing names that make no sense; Jeremiah walked around with a yoke on his back to show the people that God would yoke them to Babylon. It is no wonder that the prophets were accused of being crazy lunatics.
Not to forget Jesus’ prophetic acts, which cost Him his life at the end of the day. Why would Jesus say to his Jewish audience, I will destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days” (Mark 14:58), knowing that to say such was a taboo. That was the very statement that provoked the Jews to anger.
At one point, Jesus went to the temple, throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, which did also evoked public judgment that he was crazy.
Surely, folly is a powerful form of prophecy because it allows us to see others or situations in light of God’s command. It makes us credible before God as we, through God’s power, prevent fallible human cabals and institutions from having the honor they are not due.
Have you being a fool for the sake of others? Are you allowing yourself to see people’s weakness and condition from a simpler perspective of life? Are you truly a loyal fool whose intention for staying in that hopeless place is for the sake of love? What approach have you taken to invert and subvert the common-sense assumptions of today to bring about God’s prophetic word to others? Are you running your race with endurance and paid the price of scorn so that others may have life?