A Fool's Paradise

October 8, 2023

Topic: Wisdom

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In 2015, a German man named Jer Duli got a divorce from his wife Laura, and was ordered by the court to give Laura half of all of his possessions. So he took the order literally.

Jer Duli cut all of his possessions in half. In a video he posted online, we can see that he cut his phone in half, his chair in half, his television, his bed, and even his car in half.

After delivering all of Laura’s half to her, he began to sell his half on eBay, where he sold around 30 items that were cut in half, including half of his car, which sold for the equivalent of around $2,000 USD.

Now, I’m sure Jer Duli did all that because he lost the court case and didn’t want his ex-wife benefiting from the divorce. So it appears that he did it out of spite. But I think he also had a lot of fun doing it. He found a way to celebrate the loss. He was in paradise.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that we should have fun acting out of spite. Such vindictiveness not only displeases God, but also leads to more strain on relationships. So I’m not saying we should go and do likewise. But I do want to point out from this negative example how life can sometimes seem like paradise precisely because we’re thinking and acting like fools.

Now, that’s kind of an extreme example, but we’ve all done this from time to time in what we might consider to be more acceptable ways. Gossiping to your friends about a person who offended you may make you feel a little better about the situation, but gossip itself is foolish and vindictive. Slandering the people you disagree with on Facebook may seem justified in your mind, but it doesn’t actually lead to any solutions, and actually hinders meaningful dialogue with them, not to mention the effect it has on your own soul.

And maybe you don’t engage in this kind of vindictiveness, but the reality is, we’ve all exalted ourselves at some point, and made life all about what we personally want, rather than loving and serving God and the people God has placed around us. We’ve all felt the urge to do something foolish, regardless of how it affects others. And we’ve definitely felt how others have behaved this way toward us.

So what’s the solution to all this? Where can we find wisdom and guidance about how to live in a world that is often so foolish and vindictive?

The Bible tells us that the answer is found in God’s wisdom. Ecclesiastes 10, starting in verse 5:

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, an error proceeding from the presence of the ruler: The fool is appointed to great heights, but the rich remain in lowly positions. I have seen slaves on horses, but princes walking on the ground like slaves. The one who digs a pit may fall into it, and the one who breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. The one who quarries stones may be hurt by them; the one who splits logs may be endangered by them. (Ecclesiastes 10:5-9)

Father, help us to be wise. Help us to be less concerned about what we think we deserve, what we think will make us happy, and more concerned with what You deserve, which will truly bring us joy. So help us to find our joy in Jesus. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Here are a few surprising facts:

The world’s largest recorded snowflake was 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick.

The world’s oldest known living land animal is a tortoise named Jonathan, who is over 190 years old.

And here’s my personal favorite:

The average person produces enough saliva in their lifetime to fill not one, but ten 8-person hot tubs.

In my opinion, these are all facts that are so surprising that we might even say that they don’t make sense. Our minds can’t really comprehend how they could be true, at least mine can’t.

Our passage today is all about things that are true, but don’t make sense. Some of them are injustices, but some of them are simply things that sometimes happen in life, neither good nor bad, but still just kind of strange when you stop to think about them.

The writer begins verse 5 by saying this is an evil that he’s seen under the sun, but in this context, he doesn’t mean that it’s wrong that these things happen, but rather that these things are anomalies. They stand out as being strange in our world, even in a world as uncertain as ours, because we expect things in our world to operate according to a set of unspoken rules, even if we don’t like those rules.

The first anomaly that we read in this passage is that a fool is sometimes appointed to a position of power, while a rich man remains in obscurity. That’s different from what we would expect, right? We observe over and over that the rich get the positions of power, and even when it’s not a rich person, we would expect the person at least to be wise, or well-respected, but sometimes he’s none of these things! Sometimes it’s the fool who gets the position.

Now, without naming any names, I think most of us have wondered at times how a person that you consider to be a complete idiot could get the promotion to be your boss, or be elected as a senator, or even become the President of the United States. And the simple answer is just that it happens sometimes. It’s an anomaly. Unfortunately, it seems to be a very common anomaly sometimes, but even when it seems extremely common, it is strange, because it’s the opposite of what we would expect in a logical society.

Of course, we could point out that we don’t live in a logical society. We live in a world blinded by sin, and blinded by Satan. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says:

In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

The reality is, we live in a fool’s paradise. And I’d like to believe that Christians have risen above this foolishness, but far too often, we find ourselves engaging in the same battles, and getting sucked into the same idiocy, when we ought to be remembering that our citizenship is not of this world, because we’re citizens of a far greater world. We’re citizens of the kingdom of God.

And yet, because we live in this fallen world, and because we ourselves still sin, we sometimes accept the sinful ideals and practices of this world as normal, or even paradise.

So we read in verse 7 that the second anomaly that the writer points out is slaves riding on horses while princes walk. Once again, the writer isn’t saying that this is an injustice, just that it would be strange to see. It’s an anomaly. In this scenario, of course, at that time in history, we would expect the slave to be walking while the prince was riding the horse, but we don’t always see what we would expect in life.

In fact, these kinds of things happen all the time today! And some of these things are very good things when done intentionally rather than just accidentally. Like how a homeless person gets treated by a doctor even if they have no money to pay, a firefighter putting out a fire in a poor neighborhood that can’t afford the taxes to support the firefighters, or a rich person donating most of his wealth to charity. It’s a good thing that people are compassionate towards those that they have no earthly obligation to be compassionate towards.

In fact, this also illustrates how strange it was for Jesus to serve us. Jesus, being God, came down from heaven, and then He served us. He came not to be served, but to serve, like the prince walking and allowing his slave to ride his horse. We don’t worship a harsh god who just commands that we adhere to His rules, and punishes us for eternity when we don’t measure up. No, we worship the God who could have done that, but instead humbled Himself, becoming one of us, living the perfect life that we failed to live, and then dying in our place as our substitute, so that all of our sins would be forgiven in Him by grace through faith, and so that like Him, we would rise to walk a new life, having love and compassion for those around us.

You see, as we trust in what Jesus did for us, we become like Him. We begin to give our lives to those around us, serving them. We begin to operate not according to the ways of this world, but according to our citizenship in heaven.

But that doesn’t mean we’re automatically immune to falling into the same old habits. Verses 8 and 9 quickly pointed out four more anomalies that are all too common to our experience of life. The one who digs a pit may fall into it, talking about how we sometimes fall into the very trap we dug ourselves into. The one who breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake, because we never know what lies on the other side of what we’re doing. The one who quarries stones may be hurt by them and the one who splits logs may be endangered by them, because even if we’re skillful in our labor, it’s foolish to think we’re invincible to the dangers inherent in life. So even as we continue to live in this foolish world, seek to be wise.

Verse 10.

If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen its edge, then one must exert more strength; however, the advantage of wisdom is that it brings success. If the snake bites before it is charmed, then there is no advantage for the charmer. The words from the mouth of a wise person are gracious, but the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words from his mouth is folly, but the end of his speaking is evil madness; yet the fool multiplies words. No one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him? The struggles of fools weary them, for they don’t know how to go to the city. (Ecclesiastes 10:10-15)

So, as we’ve seen many times throughout Ecclesiastes, there are huge advantages to having wisdom! Wisdom is sharpening your ax before using it, working smarter not harder. If you’re a person who handles snakes, and I don’t recommend it, wisdom is being sure you know how to handle the snake before you stick your hand in the basket so you don’t get bit.

Maybe you don’t have to handle axes or snakes too often, but we all have to be wise in the way that we speak, and this is really one of the biggest areas that show whether we’re wise or foolish. The Bible says that wisdom is speaking gracious words even when you disagree with someone, because harsh, foolish words will more often just lead to an argument. Wisdom is letting our words be few rather than multiplying our words and falling into our own pit, speaking evil and madness. And wisdom generally even leads to a more peaceful life, since foolish people struggle as a result of their foolishness.

And, if we’re honest, we’ve all experienced the struggle of fools. We’ve all stuck our foot in our mouth. We’ve all done something stupid and had to pay the price for it. In fact, that’s exactly what sin is. Sin is completely illogical. Sin leads to trouble, punishment, and even death. And we’ve all sinned.

Have you ever wondered why life can seem like such a massive struggle? It’s because we live in a world full of sin. Our sin, their sin, my sin, your sin, this world is full of all of our sin, which reveals how foolish we’ve been, which leads to life being full of all kinds of struggles.

The phrase “Ignorance is bliss” comes from a poem written in 1742 by Thomas Gray titled “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” The last few lines says this:

To each his suff’rings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan,
The tender for another’s pain;
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.

In context, the poem compares the innocence of children with the responsibilities of adulthood as the poet reflected on his experience in college. And, partly out of nostalgia for simpler times, he concluded, “Ignorance is bliss” because it’s “folly to be wise,” being aware of all of the suffering that takes place in the world.

Now, I don’t know if he truly believed that, or if it just made for a nice poem about growing up, but it’s not far from how most of us have lived most of our lives. As we learn about the world around us, with all of its injustices and anomalies, we ought to do everything we can to help others. To relieve the suffering of others. How can we genuinely call ourselves Christians who follow Christ if we don’t? But far too often, we get into our holy huddles and concern ourselves more with our own needs rather than the needs of others, and so prove once again, that we’re sinners.

But Jesus did what we could not do. He gave His life for us and all the world, that we would be saved from all of our sins, and all of our sufferings, so that we can enjoy paradise with Him forever, not in blissful ignorance, but knowing fully, just as we have been fully known.

Do you long for that? Do you wait with eager expectation to enter eternity, where there’s no more sin and no more need to struggle against the powers of this world, where you can enjoy Jesus forever? The apostle Paul longed for it. And yet he also recognized that it was important to stay in this world, to serve others as Jesus did. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:

Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of my coming to you again, your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound. (Philippians 1:22-26)

So even though it’s a struggle to live here, it’s also good to serve and point others to Jesus, showing them the hope that we have in God, showing people that even though we live in this fallen land, God will send us blessings as we turn to Him in faith and obedience. Verse 16.

Woe to you, land, when your king is a youth and your princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, land, when your king is a son of nobles and your princes feast at the proper time —for strength and not for drunkenness. Because of laziness the roof caves in, and because of negligent hands the house leaks. A feast is prepared for laughter, and wine makes life happy, and money is the answer for everything. Do not curse the king even in your thoughts, and do not curse a rich person even in your bedroom, for a bird of the sky may carry the message, and a winged creature may report the matter. (Ecclesiastes 10:15-20)

So, knowing that life is uncertain, we might be tempted to act like fools and embrace much of the absurdity that we see in this life. As it says in verse 19, we could embrace the mentality that life is all about laughter, as if our enjoyment is the highest goal, or embrace wine, as is life is just about our temporary happiness, or even the absurdity that money is the answer for everything, which so many people have been tempted to live by. But these mentalities are not ultimately satisfying. As verse 18 implies, these are lazy mentalities which lead to a mess of a life.

Instead, the writer encourages us to work with our hands, doing what’s right, not being lazy or negligent, but diligent to keep even our thoughts from sin.

So, how are we doing with that? Because I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s tough not to curse others in my thoughts. Sometimes when I hear about another church or pastor not doing so well, it makes me just a little happy, because I rationalize that it means that maybe I’m actually better than them. And oftentimes, rather than being diligent to study and grow in faith, I’m tempted to seek temporary pleasures, whether food or laziness, and so I act less like a Christian, and more like a fool who thinks that this world is all about me.

Historian and son of a preacher, Thomas Fuller said this:

A fool’s paradise is a wise man’s hell. -Thomas Fuller

In other words, ignorance may be bliss to the fool, but it’s hell to the one who actually has a little wisdom. It’s interesting that God doesn’t want us to be unaware of the evils of the world, and yet, God also doesn’t want us in constant misery because of our knowledge of the evils of the world. The Bible constantly tells us to have joy! So what’s the solution? How do we both become wise and also live in paradise despite all of the suffering that we see around us, and even when we ourselves have suffering and trials of many kinds?

God’s solution to our dilemma is Jesus. Jesus became the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, taking all the sins, and evils, and sufferings of the world on Himself, because He came not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Therefore, Jesus told the thief on the cross next to Him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

But it’s not a fool’s paradise, but the paradise of the wise, because he trusted in Jesus for his salvation, who is the only Savior.

Because here’s another fact that doesn’t make sense: we are all sinful beyond measure, and yet God loves us unconditionally. Romans 5:8 says:

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

It’s such a surprising truth that we might say that it doesn’t make any sense at all, but it’s true. No matter how much of a fool you think you’ve been in your life, God still loves you, and welcomes you into His family, forgiving you by grace through faith in Jesus.

We’re going to move into our invitational time this morning, so I want you to begin to pray for those around you. Pray that God would convict of sin, and reassure of His grace, and cause us to be humble and bold to take the step of faith we need to this morning.

Maybe this morning you’re realizing just how much you’ve been fooled by your sin and by the sins of this world. Jesus invites you this morning to trust in Him. And by trusting in Jesus, all your sins will be forgiven, and you’ll be empowered by the Holy Spirit to begin living a life of wisdom in this broken world. He invites you to turn your back on the sins and ignorance of this world, the fool’s paradise, and enter into the true paradise of His love and grace. And no matter how much you’ve messed up in this past, God still loves you, and desires for You to trust in His love, and He will keep on pursuing You until you do.

Or maybe you’ve done that, but you also know that you haven’t been living wisely. You’ve been dabbling in your old sins, and you need to confess to God that you’ve messed up, and you need His power to begin to live the way He calls you in His word to live. I invite you to come, and I can pray with you if you’d like, or you can just pray at the altar. We’re going to have others who come just to pray for those making decisions this morning.

So whether you need to confess to God, praying for His strength, or ask Jesus to forgive you of all your sin this morning for the first time, I invite you this morning to come as we sing.