Let me reassure anyone from our church family reading this that I am not thinking of any particular conversation or any particular individual! It’s not you. Honest. But there was an incident the other day that caused me to revisit these proverbs. They’re all about how to deal with someone who’s short on wisdom but not short of opinions.
Proverbs 26 gives us two options.
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Let me just state what ought to be obvious even on a first reading, these two pieces of advice are plain contradictory. Answer him. Don’t answer him.
And so the deeper answer seeems to be ‘it all depends’. At one time it’ll be appropriate to say something. And at another time it’ll be sensible to keep schtum. There’s no automatic formula which we simply apply. It’s a judgment call. There are some times when an answer will simply inflame the situation and lead to a protracted argument in which the fool simply continues to demonstrate his stupidity. And there are other times when a simple answer will silence the fool and stop him in his tracks, thereby doing everyone a favour.
Judging how the fool will respond is the key!