The other day we examined this verse from the view of apologetics. In that article, we learned how Christ provided a model for us to follow when unbelievers confront us about our faith. We learned how to not answer a fool according to his folly and how to answer a fool according to his folly without falling into the trap of becoming like the fool and validating the fool’s “wisdom. While I hope this article was helpful to many, this only examined the verse from an anthropocentric point of view (i.e., man-to-man).
But what can this verse teach us about prayer? How does this verse relate to the man-to-God interaction? At first, one might think that this verse has nothing to do with prayer. After all, it never overtly mentions prayer or praying, nor is there anything within the original language that would suggest it addresses prayer either. However, I believe that it can provide an insight into that central aspect of one’s relationship with God, especially when tragedy strikes.
Let’s be honest: When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Stephen Paddock shot up a Las Vegas concert, or when personal tragedy unexpectedly slammed into your own life, how many of us either thought (or heard from others), “Where is God? And what is He doing?” How many people said things like, “Why would a good God allow such terrible things to occur?”
Such questions are not unusual to ask in the wake of disaster or tragedy, but such questions explain why the above verses are needed to understand prayer. For when we approach God in prayer, He is the wise person and we are the fools. (1 Cor. 1:25)
I know this sounds harsh but it’s the truth.
If you don’t believe me, look at Psalm 14:1-3, which begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who do good.” At first, one could read this, wipe the sweat from his brow, and say, “Whew! Glad that’s not me. I’m not an atheist.”
But then it goes on to compare this type of fool with mankind in general, saying: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)
The conclusion of God is the same about all of us. Atheist or not, we are all fools, for none of us seek after God. None of us do good. Not even one.
Thus, when we approach God in prayer, there must be an expectation that our imperious, insincere, and individualistic nature will express more foolishness through our questions of and accusations against God than we could ever intend or imagine.
The question, for example, of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” is fraught with foolishness. 1) It establishes a scenario that accuses God of bad, one might even say “indefensible,” behavior 2) It implies that God’s goodness is invalidated because He permitted something tragic to occur 3) It assumes that a good god would only permit good things to occur to his subjects and 4) It asserts that there is such a thing as “good people.”
But when we go to God in prayer with such questions, the answer that we receive will most likely come in two forms.
First, God expresses His goodness and His wisdom by not answering us according to our folly. If He were to engage our foolish question directly, He would be silently agreeing with all of the aforementioned premises and would be trapped within the boundaries that the question defines. But since the logical conclusion of the question comes to either “God is good but arbitrary and absent” or “God is not good,” He cannot answer us according to our folly. Instead, He must challenge our foolishness by redefining our thinking. Therefore, God’s answer to such a prayer would most likely begin with a question of His own. This was a favorite tactic of Jesus’ and it often helped expose the foolish heart of His accusers as well as their feelings and motivations for asking the question in the first place.
Such is the nature of all of God’s questions. Even a simple one, such as “O you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31) forces the hearer to examine himself and the hand that holds the hammer. In answering God’s questions we begin to see the chasm of holiness and wisdom that separates God and us. In this way, He maintains His character without being drawn into an argument whose boundaries and definitions have been set by a fool.
Second, once we begin to see where He’s going with this, God will answer us according to our folly, so that we do not look wise in our eyes. God’s desire is to bring us to repentance. To give us eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It is not just to shame us or to make us look stupid. Therefore, He will take the argument we have set up and show us why the argument we have set up is false.
For example, in the above question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” there are several foolish things within the question itself that can help disprove it.
1) It assumes an objective moral law, which all people can agree upon, as the basis for its definition of good and bad, but if this is true there must be an objective moral lawgiver who made us humans capable of understanding this standard and applying it to our lives. Such a lawgiver (being objective and moral) would be incapable of being bad 2) Within the context of this objective moral law, the questioner’s belief that it is unjust if good people do not receive only good things and if bad people do not receive only bad things is exposed 3) But if the premise behind #2 is true, yet bad things happen to everyone, then wouldn’t the conclusion be that none of us are good? 4) Consequently, if none of us humans are good, then do we not deserve to have bad things happen to us? 5) And if #4 is true, then have we not asked the wrong question to begin with? Should not the question be “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” 6) Finally, if God is the One permitting good things to happen to bad people, then do not all the pleasures and joys and blessings one has enjoyed in life only validate God’s goodness? 7) And does not this expression of His goodness in these small things beg the question, “How far does God’s goodness extend to us bad people?”
In such an examination of the foolishness within the question we posited, we begin to discover that God’s goodness extends much farther and much further than any of us can imagine.
Indeed, it is for this reason, I believe, that the apostle Paul once wrote “the goodness of God leads you to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4, NKJV).
For God’s goodness goes beyond the supply of material blessings and it extends past the boundaries of providing us with relationships that satisfy our need for love and belonging. God’s goodness not only intervenes throughout our life history to prevent suffering, His goodness also steps into human history to become bad in our place so that we might become good and finally receive the rewards of a good person (namely, salvation and eternal life with Him, see 2 Cor. 5:21).
We must be humble, therefore, when we approach God in prayer. Otherwise we run the risk of asking unintelligible, angry, or unanswerable questions. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis once spoke on this very thing when he said:
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.
This is why, I believe, Jesus taught us to pray in such a way that reduces foolishness and orients us wholly on God. Maybe you know it. It goes like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9-13)
Follow this model and you will find a heart emptied of foolishness. One that is not accusing or offended at God, but one that is pursuing Him in wisdom and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, both now and for all eternity. Amen.