Mercy is a core Christian impulse; it’s part of the heartbeat of the gospel. I wondered last week how mercy might play out in Toronto’s mayoral misadventures. And while mercy may feel like folly, it is not at all incompatible with wisdom.
That got me thinking about another angle into this Toronto train wreck, now coming from the pool of wisdom literature of Scripture. There’s a line of biblical wisdom that explores the fool. According to ancient wisdom, there are wise, foolish and evil people, with parts of each playing out in all of us. However, some people make a career of one of these.
In the wisdom literature, there are a variety of Hebrew words for our translation “fool.” It doesn’t refer to someone who lacks the grey matter but instead one who lacks the appropriate heart matter; it’s someone whose deficiency is in moral humility and refuses to yield to God or others. Another word for “fool” refers to someone who will not receive truth, who when the truth comes doesn’t adjust themselves according to it but instead tries to bend the truth. This person remains resistant to the advice of wise counsellors. Another word for “fool” is someone who shirks responsibility, who makes excuses or externalizes (blaming) and complains of the barriers in their way. And they get angry.
Biblical scholar Derek Kidner writes of the fool: “the root of his trouble is spiritual, not mental. He likes his folly, going back to it ‘like a dog that returns to his vomit’ … he has no reverence for truth, preferring comfortable illusions.”
Take note of a few verses from Proverbs about the fool and you begin to sense an immediate resonance with what is playing out in Toronto. The fool:
- “despises wisdom and discipline” (1:7)
- “the way of the fool seems right to him” (12:15)
- “a fool shows his annoyance at once” (12:16)
- “the heart of the fool blurts out folly”
- “the folly of fools is deception” (14:8)
- “fools mock at making amends for sin” (14:9)
- “a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (14:16)
- “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (18:2)
- “It is a man’s honor to avoid strife but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (20:3)
- “He who trusts in himself is a fool.” (28:26)
- “If a wise man goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.” (29:9)
- “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (29:11)
A fool is a menace to the common good, fraying trust, trampling civility and sabotaging good will. And sadly, it looks like Toronto has a biblically defined fool occupying the mayor’s chair, someone without the sense or good will for the common good and so holding the city hostage.
Without any political or legal recourse to remove him from office (which is not a betrayal of mercy but the one scenario where both mercy and justice seem to be fulfilled), all we are left to do is pray for mercy for our city.
And while we suffer under this ongoing circus, hold on to one more pithy Proverb, right now more a deep heart hope for everyone in Toronto – “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” (Proverbs 10:10)
May Toronto soon rejoice.