Ignorance as Foolishness

Lately, a friend of mine (and frequent reader) has been on a kick with “presuppositional apologetics,” which is, essentially, an approach to apologetics that tackles the underlying worldview of the other.  It’s rooted in the concept set forth in Romans 1:18-32 that God’s “invisible nature… eternal power, and deity” have been clearly shown to the world.  In other words, it’s the idea that the existence of the divine, the existence of Natural Law, or something along those lines (depending on one’s precise interpretation) is inherently knowable to all people, and therefore anyone who disbelieves in God is simply suppressing the truth.

A couple nights ago I read something from the Wisdom of Solomon (12:23-13:9) that spoke to this topic in a very interesting way.  I’ll just start by quoting it, and then commenting briefly below.

Therefore those who lived unjustly in their foolishness of life, You tormented by means of their own abominations.  For they went far astray on the paths of error, taking up gods which were despised even among their enemies, being deceived after the manner of foolish children….  For when they suffered they became indignant at those they imagined to be gods, realizing they were being punished because of them.  They also came to recognize the true God Whom they refused to know long ago; therefore the utmost condemnation came upon them.

For all men while ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.  If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them!  And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is He Who formed them.  For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

Yet these men are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him; for as they live among His works they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful?  Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?

The first paragraph (12:23-27) is probably referring to the Egyptians, primarily, as much of the preceding two chapters is providing a walk-through of Israelite history from the critical perspective of God’s wisdom.  In particular, these verses are calling out the foolishness of their idol-worshiping religion, especially how they blame their gods for not protecting them from the True God’s punishments.  The last verse there is especially interesting, mentioning God as one whom they “refused to know.”  This I recognized to be in the same vein as Romans 1, and how the passage went on from there only confirmed my suspicions.

The second paragraph (13:1-5) seems to move on from the specific situation and example of the Egyptians to address all who worship idols.  Their ignorance of the true God is described as foolishness.  They look at God’s works – at creation – and fail to recognize (let alone acknowledge) the Creator behind them.  Creation exists, in part, simply to reflect the beauty and majesty of the Creator, and the author goes so far as to say that creation is a sort of analogy for the Creator – God’s greatness and beauty can be perceived through creation.

The third paragraph (13:6-9), then, brings up a natural question one might ask at this point: is it so bad if people get caught up in the beauty of creation, since it’s such a beautiful reflection of God’s beauty?  If God is so great, doesn’t He want us enjoying His creation?  Doesn’t our respect for creation somehow translate automatically into respecting God?  The answer is a sharp no.  If someone is wise enough to appreciate the beauty of creation, he/she is wise enough to ask the next questions – “who made this?” and “how do I know him?”

After this point, Wisdom 13 goes back to the subject of the idolaters, and how miserable their religious situation is.  Tackling the issue of idolatry is one of the major focuses of the later prophetical writings, as well as much of the book of Wisdom.  So if you want to know the answer to the questions raised in the above paragraph then I think you have to jump to Romans 1, where Paul writes about knowing God through creation, and affirms the idea here in Wisdom 12-13 that ignorance is foolishness, and therefore inexcusable.

What’s the point of posting this?  Apart from simply thinking that reading was neat, I think that this passage from Wisdom was probably one of the texts that came to Paul’s mind as he was writing his letter to the Romans.  There are several verse correlations noted in the Greek New Testament linking Wisdom 12 and 13 with Romans 1, so I know it’s not just me making this up.  At the very least, the subjects are related, and our understanding of both passages can be better informed by the other.  And, as “intolerant” as our culture might label it, one of the underlying lessons that both passages teach us is that ignorance is foolishness.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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1 Response to Ignorance as Foolishness

  1. Ben says:

    This area is so interesting to me because it has fun/interesting implications.

    I totally agree, that’s a neat parallel from the OT! There’s a few times when it says “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no god'”. Same idea.

    Yes, denying there is a god at all is foolishness. But is it ignorance? I don’t think so… We see clearly in Romans that men are “without excuse” when they claim there is no god. All men already have the knowledge of the existence of a god! No one is ignorant.

    Sure, there’s “willful” ignorance. But not true ignorance. I’m not sure that exists in this area 🙂

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