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Happy Birthday Dr. Wall!  Reflections From the Therapist’s Chair

Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it?

Proverbs 17:16

This exercise in writing about Proverbs and the fool and communication is teaching me a ton. I’ve read these Proverbs for years. I really didn’t start taking my faith seriously until I was 19 years of age and at that time I came across a book of Psalms and Proverbs with an introduction by Rev. Billy Graham and he suggested reading 5 Psalms a day and 1 Proverb a day. Since there are 150 Psalms and 31 chapters in Proverbs, a person would read the entirety of those two books every month. So intermittently, over the years, I’ve done that, more often Proverbs than Psalms, but this little exercise has had a profound impact upon my entire life. It’s one thing to read the Bible. It’s another thing to actually apply it to your life. But as a young person reading such verses as “the fear of the Lord is to hate evil” and “in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” I really tried to take those things to heart.

The rest is history and while my fellow students were streaking naked in the streets in Moorhead, Minnesota back in the early ‘70’s (Remember that? I was in my dorm room reading Psalms and Proverbs when that first hit our campus at Moorhead State College.) I was reading verses like the one above and “fools hate advice.” I didn’t want to be a fool.

And now, 40 years later, I’m giving advice. People are paying me for wisdom on handling ungodly messes. Who’d a thought? I marvel. I count myself blessed and I still pray the Lord my soul to keep me from evil and to teach me His ways. I hope I never cease learning and growing.

Which brings me to the verse above. I’ve read that verse since I was 19 and never stopped long enough to answer the question. I’d just read it and go on to the next one. But today I answered the question: Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? Why should they?

It occurred to me the reason they should is because we are all fools, every one of us, and there is no one who is righteous, no one who does good, but God in His mercy allows us to learn from our mistakes and purge the evil from our hearts, me most of all. I can write about foolishness because I’ve played the fool. I’m trying to spend more time on the wisdom side than the foolish side, but I have my moments and my weak sides. And I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way and I’ve had my problems and I’ve played the fool and I went to counseling and paid a wiser person to give me some insight, two as a matter of fact, and they both gave me advice that changed my life for the better. It was very humbling to be told by these counselor dudes where I was tripping myself up. It was very humiliating to not be able to figure it out myself. But Proverbs had been telling me for years, over and over, that a wise man seeks advice and so I did. I paid for it. Why should a fool have money in hand to buy wisdom when he is not able to understand it?

The answer is that some of them will understand it. Not all. But some will. And their lives will be changed, some of them literally forever. Keep in mind the nature of Proverbs. These sayings are tendencies. They are not promises. When Proverbs says that if you train a child up in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it, this is not a promise. Solomon is writing that the odds are that if you are a wise parent and teach your child by your word AND your deeds that, indeed, God’s way is the way to blessing, that most kids will get this sooner or later. But not all. Sorry. When the Apostle John writes that Jesus said to him, “open the door and I will come in” that was a promise. There’s a difference between a promise and a proverb. Promises come true every time (at least God’s promises!). Proverbs are true most of the time and are written to goad us, to challenge us to be the exception. Fools don’t learn, right? Well…you don’t want to be a fool, right? So, you pay for wisdom and get some. Better yet, you learn wisdom without having to pay for it. Good for you. The Proverb did its work.

If you take the verse: Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? and make it a promise, you would be cynical and never waste your time talking to a fool. And I’d be broke! But it’s NOT a promise. He’s saying, the odds are…

Really, he’s saying it’d be better to get wisdom so you can spare yourself the time and energy from having to recover from living a foolish life. Since the wages of sin is death, living a foolish life has a pretty high cost. You can recover some, but often your foolishness will suck the life right out of you and the recovery process is a very difficult road and now we have all these bodies in the ditch that will need to be hauled away, all these apologies that will have to be made, all these fences that will have to be mended and some of the fences won’t want to be mended and some of the people you’ve hurt in your foolishness won’t want you in their lives anymore because you’ve hurt them enough already and they doubt you will ever change (odds are) and so they keep you at arms length and, unfortunately, some of the folk you may have hurt in your foolishness may, in fact, be your spouse, who is tempted to or is divorcing your sorry excuse for a butt, or a child, who writes you off as a total loser or your boss who can’t fire you quick enough to have security escort you to your car. Thank you very much, as you give them your keys and they turn and walk away before you’ve ever left the parking lot.

It would have been a lot easier if you’d never played the fool and so all these loved ones and co-workers and relatives and bosses didn’t have to protect themselves from you and you didn’t have to go to therapy to figure out how to mend those fences because the fences would have never needed repair. And some folk, who go through all these messes, go to therapy and get some new ways of thinking and living and feeling and choosing and willing and make the necessary adjustments to piece back their lives. If I didn’t believe that fools could become wise I wouldn’t be a counselor. I know that some do.

I hope you are one of them. I hope you learn before it’s too late. Your spouse may be giving you signals right now. And if she’s saying, too many times, that she’s very tired and desperately needs your help and you write her off as a bitch and totally ignore her longings and go out and get drunk again with your buddies and come home, again, later than late and never called and stumble around and can’t find the keys and she has to open the door for you again at 3 in the morning and you are supposed to go to work the next day, don’t be too surprised that one day you come home and the door lock is changed or the house is empty or the sheriff delivers papers to you at your office. Then you’ll want to talk to me and chat it up about all the hurt she’s done to you and how you are willing to change now that you are living at a hotel and you haven’t seen your kids in three days and they don’t want to talk to you either.

Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? Would this fool become a former drunk? Maybe. Maybe not. But they should be able to buy wisdom, because maybe they could learn from their mistakes.

Still, Solomon’s point is that it would be much better to have wisdom and never become a drunk in the first place or when your wife says she needs help, you go, really? and go help her and bless her life and her heart goes out to you and she says to herself that she is really lucky to have a man who is so attentive to her needs and she gives back and responds to your example of servanthood and then you come and see me because you are thinking that you don’t know everything and what else can my wife and I do to have the best marriage possible and we’re not in the mechanic’s garage to haul the junker to the junk yard.All we need to do is change the oil.

The latter is a lot more fun. It’s much easier to change oil than to have to buy a whole new car. A lot cheaper, too.

It’s also a lot better to buy wisdom before you need it.It’s a lot better to never do the foolish thing in the first place.

And, from the therapists chair, it’s lot more fun to help a young couple who is just starting out and wondering what they need to do to have the best relationship and not make terrible mistakes, to make the wise choices, than it is to try to help a couple try to recover from the aftermath of an affair or whatever foolishness they’ve got themselves into.

It’s a lot easier, too.

But it is, also, very rewarding to help a couple where one or both have played the fool and now they are both ready to put aside their foolish ways and learn a better way.It’s a joy to see them get it, to see the light bulbs go on in their lives and light up their future and their families and each other.

And so the answer to the question: Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom, when they are not able to understand it? is if they don’t understand it they still have to pay and the payments will be paid for years to come, some for eternity. Others may not understand it at first, but then they will. And to those, I tip my hat.

And, if you know me, you know that I love hats.

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