I doubt many parents, upon looking at their newborn son or daughter, hope in their hearts that their child will grow up to be a fool. That would be as preposterous as desiring that their child have a catastrophic illness or debilitating injury. Parents tend to want the best for their children, and raising a fool does not fit into that category. Yet the very methods employed in raising their little darlings often result in what the Bible classifies as a fool.
The modern thinking regarding a fool signifies stupidity or silliness, and one who makes bad decisions. But, the Bible (with its considerable discussion about fools) is reflected in the third definition of Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
In scripture, fool is often used for a wicked or depraved person; one who acts contrary to sound wisdom in his moral deportment; one who follows his own inclinations, who prefers trifling and temporary pleasures to the service of God and eternal happiness. The foolhath said in his heart, There is no God (Ps. 14:1).
Starting Out as Fools
We all begin life as fools and it is only by God’s grace and regeneration through the Holy Spirit that we gain the mind of Christ. Christ was obedient to the entirety of the law; as new creatures, we are to strive to do likewise, relentlessly battling the foolishness that remains in our hearts. What’s more, we must identify the fools in our lives, and deal with them appropriately, lest we become like them.
R.J. Rushdoony, in discussing Proverbs 14:9, notes,
There is an unspoken and yet very real communion and community among men.
Fools, meaning in Scripture men who deny God and His law, have an invisible bond: their common guilt. They share a bad conscience, a rejection of God and His Word, a common guilt and a rebellion against God’s order. This is the bond between them; their intermediary or mediator is sin and guilt; this brings them together.
There is a like communion among the godly, an invisible bond that brings them together. It is a good conscience before God, and a life which manifests the favor, grace, or goodwill that is born of a life in the Lord. As against the arrogance of the ungodly, there is grace and goodwill. The central point of this proverb is that there is a division between these two kinds of men. While it is invisible, it is very real, and more powerful than many things on the surface. The question for us to ask ourselves is this: in which camp are we?1
When a child enters a family (either by birth or adoption), it is the responsibility and duty of the parents to administer Biblical training and discipline. This has many facets that include instruction, correction, commendation, rebuke, and the rod of discipline when appropriate. Each requires wisdom on the part of the parents who must know the law-word of God well enough to determine the nature of any infraction or offense and respond accordingly. This also involves knowing one’s child well enough (read: spend enough time with the child) to differentiate between ignorance, confusion, character weakness, or defiance. It most certainly involves teaching what sin is from the earliest encounters with a child so that the standard of right and wrong is clearly communicated.
We live in an age when all too few people take sin seriously. In fact, many regard it as a mark of being out of date and irrelevant to regard sin as an important matter.
Sin, however, is any want of conformity to, or violation of, the law of God. Failure to take sin seriously is failure to take God seriously, and this is at the heart of our problem.2
Godly knowledge is enhanced by godly influence, teaching, and being shielded, at an early age, from individuals and things that strive to turn people away from God. Thus, those Christians who justify sacrificing their children to a godless public education, complete with all the results of humanistic materialism, are rejecting the Lord and His means of transmitting godly knowledge. What’s more, they are demonstrating to their children those things that are of the utmost importance to them evidenced by the choices they make.
The godly man recognizes that he has been called and chosen by God. He is therefore under authority. His choices have been made by God and set forth in Scripture. The Ten Commandments spell out God’s choice and law. Man has no free option. One way is sin, and the other faith, obedience, and blessing. The godly man rejoices in God’s Word and choice, and it is his joy that God “shall choose our inheritance for us” (Ps. 47:4).
Our choices thus reveal whether or not we are chosen by God or self-chosen. The self-chosen say, “My will be done,” whereas the chosen of God, as C. S. Lewis saw, will say to God, “Thy will be done.”3
Built into this process of active obedience on the part of the parents is recognition of the fact that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). The rod of discipline is not limited to physical punishment, and when used appropriately, this aspect should be rare.4 However, for the purposes of this discussion, Proverbs is telling us that where we find children, we will also find foolishness. This requires active, hands-on parenting so that wisdom lessons are inculcated early on in life when the consequences of deviance will have less significant ramifications.5
When Fools Raise Fools
It is important to realize that much of our problems today are the result of fools raising fools. Having been coddled as children themselves, and in many cases devoid of any contact with the Bible, many have been successfully propagandized into believing that their children are good people who need a permissive and exploratory environment in which to thrive. But, as Rushdoony points out,
Solomon made it clear long ago: give a fool, or a simpleminded person, as much as you can, but he will still acquire or inherit only folly: “The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge” (Prov. 14:18). According to Solomon, the fools, or the “simple,” are not halfwits; they are those who refuse to accept discipline in the school of wisdom (Prov. 1:22–32).6
Moreover, while it is true that bad parenting often results in encouraging foolishness, the Bible places the guilt on the individual himself. Since God’s imprint is on all of us, the fool bears responsibility for his transgressions. When we all stand before God, we will have to make an account for ourselves, not blame our parents.
By the same token, when a child who has been raised in a covenanted, Christian home disavows his or her upbringing, parents must accept that, although they themselves are still being sanctified and are not without flaws, it is the child who has rejected God and who is responsible for that decision. Certainly, parents can improve in how they steward the lives of their children, but it must be acknowledged that, although we can control behavior and speech to some extent, the heart is something we can only inform.7
The root of the fool’s trouble is spiritual, not mental. The fool loves his folly, and he keeps returning to it, no matter what one does to keep him away from it. “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (Prov. 26:11). Fellowship with fools is destructive: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Prov. 13:20).
The essence of the fool’s life is his rejection of God: “[T]hey hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:29). The prevalence of fools in our day is an outcome of this rejection of the Lord and of godly knowledge.8
It is heartbreaking for parents to witness their grown or almost-grown children reject the faith they were taught. Living in a culture replete with those who disregard God’s law, sometimes even within the church, can make for turbulent times, especially when there are younger children looking on and paying careful attention to how this is dealt with.
The Marks of Foolishness
While there is no “one size fits all” solution to maneuvering through such waters, it must be recognized that when anyone lives as though God does not exist and His law-word is irrelevant, you are dealing with a fool. Moreover, the book of Proverbs deals repeatedly with the reality of having to associate with fools:
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!
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.
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. (Prov. 26:1–12)
These are strong words, yet sum up what must be kept in mind when dealing with those who overtly and proudly proclaim disbelief. Too often, we try to lessen these Biblical reminders, allowing for mitigating circumstances or declaring, “But that doesn’t make him/her a bad person.” If we embrace this schizophrenic perspective, we are succumbing to the foolishness of the world, accepting its definitions of what is good and what is bad.
One of the challenges of dealing with fools within our own household and extended family is that our anti-Christian culture exalts wickedness and denigrates righteousness, and there is often very little support for the Biblical prescription of dealing with fools. Christians are told that no matter what, we should engage with unbelieving and/or mocking people as a mark of our Christ-likeness. However, Jesus offered a different message:
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. (Matt. 10:14)
In other words, our Lord instructs us to plant on fertile ground and invest in those people (no matter what their past) who wish to learn how to please God and keep His commandments, rather than chase after those who don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear.
So, what do parents do whose offspring continue to manifest foolishness despite correction and instruction? This is not an easy question, made more difficult by the surrounding culture, which agrees with and encourages the wickedness of fools. In some cases, money is spent to send the child to a boarding school or to live with distant relatives. In other cases, extra diligence is required so that other members of the family are protected from the pollution of the rebel. Certainly, there is the need to remain on one’s knees before God, and, additionally, seek the prayers, support, and counsel of brothers and sisters in Christ.
None of this discussion should be viewed as granting permission to neglect the Great Commission given to us as believers. Nor is it license to determine unilaterally who is of the elect and who is not, since we are not granted that omniscience. Keeping in step with Jesus’ direction to judge others by their fruits (Matt. 7:16), and to correct ourselves before we set out to correct others (Matt. 7:1–5), it behooves us to recognize that there are fools among us and that we have a responsibility to respond appropriately. In the process, we must remain steadfast to build and reinforce our house built on the Rock of our salvation.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24–27)
1. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season, vol. 3 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2011), pp. 83–84.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season, vol. 7 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2016), pp. 62–63.
3. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season, vol. 5 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2014), p. 11.
4. See my blog site www.thekingdomdrivenfamily.com for numerous articles on this subject.
5. Learning to ask permission before taking or using something that a child has not been granted, sets the stage for asking permission to use a phone, credit card, or vehicle later on, all of which can result in expensive and potentially dangerous or fatal results.
6. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season, vol. 1 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2010), pp. 90–91.
7. Biblical accounts of godly parents with rebellious offspring demonstrate to us the limits of what parents can do.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].