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. Proverbs 26:4-5
“I don’t believe in any of that Jesus stuff. It, and all religion, is made up by people who want to control other people.” I was in Golden Gate Park with my dreadocked-hippie-christian friends. They make pancakes on a camp stove and bring hot coffee for people living in the bushes. We make friends and share with our friends about our Other Friend. Some are passing through to other hippie-traveller enclaves, Rainbow Gatherings, or just living on the road indefinitely. Others arrived in the Haight-Ashbury decades ago looking for meaning and found something else.
I was talking with “Feather,” and after a while I said, “You probably run into other Jesus freaks like us. Do you have a Jesus opinion? I mean, what do you think about him?” This is how I commonly try to start spiritual conversations; at least that’s how I often do it there in the park. He said… and then I said… and we had a very mutually enjoyable chat about God.
Later that week in the Tenderloin I was out inviting people to our street service when I approached Raymond. He spoke first, “What’s this religious propaganda you’re spewing?” Before I could respond he went into a bit of a tirade spewing his own objections to Christianity, as he understood it to be. Without detailing his thoughts or my responses, the sense I had was to disabuse him of an error or two in his thinking. He carried, not only a colon-full of animosity, but a head-full of misinformation about Jesus.
I felt led to kindly object to several of his aberrant ideas and tried to demonstrate as much love and humble compassion as I could in what could possibly be our only conversation. We ended up talking (with some debating) for such a long time that I missed our service altogether, which was no big deal since I wasn’t the preacher or worship leader that day. We became fairly well acquainted with each other and parted on good terms.
I help with a number of different outreaches in the Haight, Tenderloin, and Mission neighborhoods in San Francisco. You’d be shocked by the variety of cultures in those places. A one-size-fits-all approach to sharing Jesus would be lazy and immature. I love learning about someone’s way of looking at the world and its Maker. Jesus asked a lot of questions – odd when you think of it, God asking questions. Especially since I’m not God, I inquire a lot as to where my new friends are at. I’m not in a light-speed rush to get to my brilliant presentation of spiritual realities. Believe me, I know how to put a preach on, and when it seems like the thing to do at the time, I do – sometimes.
Sometimes I just listen and end up saying very little. Being the one Christian they’ve ever talked with that didn’t go into a fevered and sweaty pitch that sounded more like an Amway sales speech than one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, might just be the best thing I can do for this God-loved soul at the time. Being “ready with an answer to the hope that we have” does not necessarily mean that I have to give that reason every time.
Moses was supposed to hit the rock one time and speak to it the next. Since hitting it worked before, as far as he knew, it was the tried and true method of getting water out of rocks. By God’s compassion for the thirsty nation, water did come, but Moses went to God’s doghouse for doing what was familiar instead of what was right.
Most Jesus followers are uncomfortable with the insinuation that the Bible acts more like a map than a GPS. It shows us where we are and the ultimate destination, but doesn’t often tell us which turns to take along the way. There’s a very available Holy Spirit who likes to whisper directions if we’ll slow down long enough to hear his voice.
The point could be made that these two passages say diametrically opposite things. “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly,” and “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Which is it? Well, sometimes do and sometimes don’t. Sometimes it’s a good idea, even a God idea to answer and at other times it’s not advisable. How will I know the difference? Well, Proverbs is pretty much all about being a wiser person, so use wisdom. Take note of the circumstance. It’s not that the Bible teaches “Situational Ethics,” but it sure enough doesn’t recommend that we ignore the circumstances around us. What’s going on in the person with whom we’re interacting, what kind of relationship do we have with them? What do I think the Holy Spirit wants me to say at this time with this person on this day?
I realize that a memorized pre-scripted spiel would be easier and more welcomed advice. “Just tell me which is the right way, and I’ll do that.” But that’s not always the way of wisdom or the leading of the wise Spirit.
How can I know if this foolish person is one who should or should not be engaged in philosophical or spiritual debate? I guess there’s no shortcut or Google answer to that. Discernment is key, so is humility – the quality that reminds me that I can only do the best I can at the moment and will probably mistakes along the way. I often say to the Lord, “I know I’ll make mistakes, but may they be small and seldom.”
“What do I do, Lord?”
“Sometimes do and sometimes don’t…”