Proverbs 13:16 ESV
Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.
We’ve all been a bit to quick to the trigger at times. We’ve spoken before thinking, acted before considering, agreed before understanding. Sometimes it works out. Often it doesn’t. This proverb points out the dichotomy between the foolish and the prudent, not only in how they act but why.
Prudent men act with knowledge. What does this mean? Simply put, men who have imbibed God’s wisdom, who understand the working of the world and the tendencies of the human heart, guard themselves from foolish, ill-considered decisions by ensuring that when they act, they act upon a level of information appropriate to their endeavor. This doesn’t mean they examine every issue exhaustively. Making a sandwich requires much less information than arbitrating a dispute between friends or buying a house.
The question arises, then, of how much information is enough. While the answer cannot be precisely and universally quantified, a short inspection of the problem suggests that the amount of information required is proportional to the gravity of the potential outcomes combined with the difficulty of succeeding. Let’s return to the example above.
A sandwich, provided the ingredients are not spoiled (easily enough determined), will at worst cause a few minutes of discomfort or the necessity of going hungry for a few hours. Under some circumstances- hospitality, imminent physical exertion, etc.- the exigency may be greater, but here’s where the second factor comes into play: probability of success. Making a sandwich is not that complicated, at least if we’re avoiding haute cuisine. Therefore, once a certain threshold of information and understanding is reached (the ingredients, the order, basic kitchen skills, etc.), more knowledge is not a great priority, and you can make a sandwich without worrying about getting more information.
What about buying a house? A lot of things can potentially go wrong. The house could be worth less than it looks, the area could turn out to be an issue, the walls could be full of mold…. Anybody who has bought a home can probably multiply that list exponentially. Furthermore, negotiating all those difficulties involves a lot of thought; in other words, it’s not easy. Thus, because of the magnitude of the risks and rewards, because of the complexity of the issue, buying a house is a task which a prudent man ensures he has a thorough understanding of before he undertakes to accomplish it.
This is all very well, you might say, but what if I have to make the decision really, really quickly? What if there isn’t any time to get all that knowledge together and synthesize it into an understanding?
Unfortunately, the answer here is much too complex to fit in a blog post and much too reliant on the specific situation. Some general guidelines, however, can be found. We should consider how long we actually have to make the decision, what information is both important and practical to obtain, what are the potential benefits and dangers of the options, and the moral aspect of each choice. Ultimately, though, only a life of wisdom derived from God’s word and from experience will enable somebody in such a difficult situation to be sure of choosing rightly; even then, some decisions must be taken with the realization that perfection of decision is a domain of God and not man. In recognition of this unavoidable imperfection, prayer should be our final refuge, not just in making quick decisions, but in every circumstance, as He alone can guide our steps aright.
The second half of this verse highlights one of the great traps of human nature: our tendency to make decisions based on foundations other than God’s wisdom. Slavery to emotion, alongside the false theologies which it underlies (as people tend to believe in such grave lies because of their pride and hate for God (Psalm 10:4)), is perhaps the greatest of their false foundations. People think with their feelings, not their brains, in all too many cases, deciding what to do by what feels best and not what is best. Sometimes this works; God has given us minds which are capable of analyzing the world around us and quietly dissecting patterns, minds which use those patterns to assign feelings to different events. All too often, however, and particularly in larger, more complex affairs (or affairs of affection and lust), feelings overwhelm reason to the destruction of the person. It is thus that the fool flaunts his folly: by acting according to his whims and fleeting, short-term emotions, the fool declares to the world that he is indeed foolish- else why would he act in such a manner?
Ultimately, as mentioned above, all wisdom descends from God; prayer and meditation upon His word, therefore, should form the basis of any noteworthy decision (Joshua 1:8). Indeed, daily life, itself a series of decisions and actions, should be steeped in prayer, in consideration of that which is of God (1 John 4:12). We are His creatures, the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3). We should therefore imitate His wisdom and His righteousness, choosing not only what works in the short term but what pleases Him. After all, however much we know about a decision, unless God blesses it, we act in vain (Psalm 127:1). Let us pray, then, to God who gives victory, first in this life and then, eternally, in the life to come.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.