“There’s no fool like an old fool,” an old saying goes. In the past, I heard that and simply thought of it as a way for young people to get their digs in against old people: “Hey look, I can call them old and fool at the same time!” Of course, that was when I was younger and wanted to get my digs in against old people.
Older now, I’d like to spend some time thinking about a fool who is roughly my age, not terribly old or terribly young. “Jack” is single after bungling through his marriage to a much less foolish woman. He has pretty effectively alienated his only child, and his ex-wife would like to ignore him. Jack, after bottoming out financially a few years ago, went to live with his mother. I don’t care how wise or foolish you are, living with your mother in your 50s sounds terrible. (Having your mother come live with you sounds problematic as well, but that’s another matter.) Now Jack’s mother has died, so he is left with the awkwardness of a home that he can’t afford and that technically belongs to him and his two brothers.
Jack’s brothers possess the wisdom that he lacks. They’re also, despite a gruff exterior, reasonably nice fellows. They’ve agreed to let Jack live in the house as long as he wants. One of them decided to cover his brother’s housing expenses for a year to be sure he can get his feet under him. Today, Jack attempts to make a living buying and selling old stereo equipment as that year of paid-up expenses runs out. Frankly, I think he’ll have to turn around a lot of speakers and amps to support himself when the year is done.
Jack’s brothers wouldn’t want to trade places with him. They understand the value of making some good decisions along the way, but they have to wonder why he’s not having to pay more for his bad decisions. I’m reminded of this as I read Solomon’s words:
Then I turned to consider wisdom, madness, and folly, for what will the king’s successor be like? He will do what has already been done. And I realized that there is an advantage to wisdom over folly, like the advantage of light over darkness.
The wise person has eyes in his head,
but the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I also knew that one fate comes to them both. So I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will also happen to me. Why then have I been overly wise?” And I said to myself that this is also futile.–Ecclesiastes 2:12-15
The reality, as Solomon recognized is that “there is an advantage to wisdom over folly,” but we do all end up in the same place. The wise can die young. Fools can live well into their advanced years. And when it’s all over, the wise and the fool will be placed in the same ground.
As much as the Bible promotes wisdom as the ultimate thing to seek, we have to confess that wisdom is only a thing for this life, for “under the sun.” If the fool does not suffer for his foolishness, if the wise does not profit from wisdom, then there’s no real advantage to wisdom, here or hereafter.
On its own, wisdom is of no more value than possessions.