The natural state of the fool is unbelief

by Mike Ratliff

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 1 Corinthians 1:20 (NASB) 

I moved my writing ministry to Possessing the Treasure in 2006. Not long after that Ken Silva asked me to come on board the Christian Research Network team. It was during that period that there were some monumental battles with a group of people dedicated to shutting us down. I can remember writing posts about the Ordo Salutis or the Five Solas of the Reformation using sources from Protestant Reformers then having to deal with vicious comments from those people attacking not only my own character, but also the very character and salvation of men such as John Owen, John Calvin, or Martin Luther. These comments were designed to do one thing, to get me and my friends backed into a corner so that we would believe we had to respond to these onslaughts through emotionally based, piece-meal replies. Once they got us to that point then we had left the realm of apologetics and entered into a no-mans land, slugging it out blow for blow with people who had no ethical basis for “playing nice.” It was through many of these ugly events that I came up with the rules for commenting on Possessing the Treasure which must be adhered to by all. I enforce these rules assiduously and since their implementation, those attacks have been few and far between. 

We must learn how to handle critical attacks that are leveled against the Christian faith other than through attempts at piece-meal replies and appeals to emotion. I remember trying that method at first back then and it didn’t even slow those fellows down. No, the only way to respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever (or one who thinks he is a Christian, but is obviously not) is by attacking his or her position at its foundations. We must challenge their presuppositions, asking whether knowledge is even possible given the non-Christian’s assumptions and perspective. The Christian apologist cannot forever be defensively constructing atomistic answers to the endless variety of unbelieving criticisms; he or she must take the offensive and show the unbeliever that he has no intelligible place to stand, no consistent epistemology, no justification for meaningful discourse, predication, or argumentation. They must see that the pseudo-wisdom of the world, in which all their criticisms are based, is foolishness and those criticisms have zero force.

It does no good to simply address these people as “fools.” Yes, according to how the Word of God describes them, they are clearly fools, but what we must do is demonstrate that God has made the pseudo-wisdom of the world foolish, then we must first clearly understand the Biblical conception of the fool and his foolishness.

Never fall for the concept that a fool is automatically shallow-minded or an illiterate ignoramus. He or she may be very well educated and sophisticated as the world sees them. However, according to God’s Word, he or she is a fool because they have forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on their own (allegedly), self-sufficient, intellectual powers. These people are unteachable (Proverbs 10:8) and despise instruction (Proverbs 15:5). The wise man heeds counsel given him, but “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). The fool has utter self-confidence and imagines himself to be intellectually autonomous or superior. However, according to Proverbs 28:26 we learn that those who trust in their own hearts are fools. Also, in Proverbs 17:10 we see that a fool cannot think of himself as mistaken. He judges matters according to his own pre-established standards of truth and right, and thus his own thoughts always turn out in the long run to be correct. The fool is sure that he can rely on his own rational authority and intellectual scrutiny. “The fool bears himself insolently and is confident” (Proverbs 14:16), therefore, he utters his own mind (Proverbs 29:11).

This applies when dealing with non-Christians in debate or even professing Christians who are obviously apostate or are in some sort of cult. As I went through that list above, I saw very clearly these would apply to someone who seriously mishandles God’s Word in order to twist it to support their own form unbiblical doctrines. We see this more and more as men such as Rob Bell attempts to use out-of-context passages from the Word of God to support his unbiblical view of the Wrath of God and the Doctrine of Hell. We see this with Rick Warren attempting to use the Word of God to try to make the church all about things it was never meant to be, such as meeting everyone’s felt needs, et cetera.

The autonomous man is dull, stubborn, boorish, obstinate, and stupid. He professes himself to be wise, but from the opening of his mouth it is clear that he is “a fool.” According to Proverbs 17:28, his only wisdom would consist in keeping silent. “The heart of fools proclaims foolishness” (Proverbs 12:23), and the fool flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16). He eats up folly unrelentingly (Proverbs 15”14), pours it out (Proverbs 15:2), and returns to it like a dog to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11). He is so in love with his folly and so dedicated to it preservation that “It is better for a man to meet a bear robbed of her cubs, than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12). The fool does not really want to find the truth; he only wants to be self-justified in his own imaginations. While he may feign objectivity, “A fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself” (Proverbs 18:2). He is committed to his own presuppositions and wishes to guard his autonomy. Thus he will not depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19). He shall not endure the judgment of God (Psalm 5:5).

This is a serious heart condition. How does a man get to be such a self-deluded, allegedly autonomous, fool? A fool despises wisdom and instruction, refusing to begin his thinking with reverence toward the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

I remember back in those early combative days there was one fellow in particular who was most obstinate against the Doctrines of Grace no matter how clearly I presented them to him straight from God’s Word. I questioned his obstinacy and suggested that he was in unbelief. He assured me that he most certainly was not. I assured him that he most assuredly was in unbelief about two vital things, the Lordship of Christ and the Sovereignty of God. I never heard from him again. You see, he was self-sufficient and his theology could not stand the weight of Jesus Christ as absolute Lord and God who is Sovereign. No, his theology had to have him in control.

He was a fool. The fool will not be governed by God’s Word; he is lawless, just as his thinking is lawless (i.e., sinful, 1 John 3:4). Rejecting God’s law or word, the fool respects his own word and law instead (that is, he is auto-nomous). Scripture describes people who do not know God, His ways, and His judgments as foolish (cf. Jeremiah 5:4). The fool lives in practical ignorance of God, for in his heart the fool says there is no God. He lives and reasons in an atheistic manner—as though he were his own lord. Rather than being Spiritually directed, the fool’s vision is earth-bound (Proverbs 17:24). He serves the creature (e.g., the authority of his own mind) rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Those who hear Christ’s words and yet builds their lives on a rejection of that revelation are fools (Matthew 7:26), and those who suppress God’s general revelation in the created realm are also described as fools (Romans 1:18). It is quite clear, then, that a fool is one who does not make God and His revelation the starting point (the presupposition) of his thinking. Fools despise the preaching of the cross, refuse to know God, and cannot receive God’s Word (1 Corinthians 1-2). Those who are self-proclaimed, autonomous people, or unbelievers, will not submit to the word of God or build their lives and thinking upon it. Disbelief and ignorance of God’s will, therefore, produce foolishness (1 Corinthians 15:36; Ephesians 5:17).

How do we answer these fools? We must aim to demonstrate that unbelief is, in the final analysis, destructive of all knowledge. The fool must be shown that his autonomy is hostile to knowledge—that God makes foolish the “wisdom” of the world.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “The natural state of the fool is unbelief

  1. The best answer is found here…

    Pro 26:4  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
    Pro 26:5  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

    There is a time to address the fool and a time to walk away.

    As for Calvin and others, I agree and sadly, there was a fairly useful website I followed, until they produced a hit piece on Calvinism, which totally misrepresented him. J A Wylie has 55 chapters on Protestatism in France and Geneva, much of which provides great information on the reformer.

    Love your list of fools verses, need a separate copy of all those. 😀

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  2. I recently preached from Psalm 14 and had this in my opening comments: “To say there is no God, however, goes far beyond alleged atheism. It is the ultimate of self-rule, for the fool is actually saying there is no ruler, no governing authority. It harkens back to the garden where the serpent tempted Eve by telling her she would be as God. This is what the fool believes – that he is in the place of God, determining what is good and what is not.”

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  3. More on the fool…
    “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
    Which at the beginning of your article, Mike, seems like you went through a lot of that. But praise God it made you much stronger in the faith.

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